I have a friend and his name is Marc. He has a knack for posing probative questions that challenge me to do some healthy self-introspection. Recently, his question was, if I could choose to change either my race or gender, which would it be? I couldn't make a choice.
Yesterday, he posted a comment to my entry on Senator Obama's speech on race in America:
Eventually, Obama is going to show some flaws, and I want to make sure we don't put him too high on a pedestal ,that we punish him for revealing himself to be human. Right now, I'm just incredibly grateful that it looks like we might have a President who's smarter than a 5th grader's teacher's teacher, as opposed to the 4th grader we have now.I sent him an email response to his comment and he sent me a response to my email, actually, he sent two responses, but I'll share the short version first because it made me laugh (Marc is really good at making me laugh):
Now, how about blogging in this voice, sister-girl, un-hunh, hunh!His second email was a tad more serious reiteration of the first.
I had to dash off that last email before running out the door, but what I meant was there is a personal voice here that is very compelling. Your assessment of the political scene is always unassailable, but often written almost in third person, somewhat at a remove, like a very sharp op-ed article.
I love "I like being a black woman," your very personal reporting about what it's like to navigate two worlds simultaneously.
Just as he intended, it got me thinking about who I am and who I choose to be. I admit that my first thought when I read Marc's emails was that I don't choose to write in a removed voice, it's just who I am, but then I really thought about it and realized that I do present a certain voice as my public self, almost without thinking about it. (In other words, Marc hit the nail on the head!)
I think that a lot of black folks slip personas on and off like most people change clothes. I think it stems from a need to prove that we are worthy. Most of my professional life is spent in predominantly white circles; often all white except for me. I never feel that I'm just Sheria, there is always a sense that I represent my people.
I don't think that it's black paranoia. Whenever a white person does something illegal, stupid, or cruel, it is that person who is judged. When a black person behaves badly, it is the race that is judged.
The list of white men who have stolen from their own companies and destroyed the lives of countless people have not led to any conclusion that you can't trust white men to invest your money, but the list of black men who have stolen some woman's purse on the street has led to a conclusion that all black men are violent and if you see one coming, clutch your purse tightly.
Perhaps the best example of this dual system of judging the actions of an individual as representative of the group occurred with Timothy McVeigh. He was a home grown terrorist, part of a gun-hoarding, Midwestern, all white, self-proclaimed militia, out to overthrow the government. Yet when he was caught and tried, there was no profiling of white men in their early twenties as suspected domestic terrorists. Then there was 9/11 and any person who looked remotely as if they could be Middle Eastern was a terrorist suspect. Black people have put up with this type of profiling for generations.
Today, my friend's email made me realize that I don't generally share my sister-girl personality in my professional life or on this blog. I slip into my alter ego, Sheria the lawyer, also known as former high school English teacher, who speaks and writes standard English and thinks analytically at all times. Don't get me wrong, that is a part of who I am, but there is also the woman who loves her black culture, who can't sit still when I hear Aretha sing anything, who appreciates the richness of our slang and the rhythm of our speech.
So I'm sharing some of the thoughts in the email that I sent to my friend, the one where I get personal about who I am.
I share Marc's worries about placing Obama on a pedestal. Idols always fall and then we hate them for their human fraility. I also worry that Obama will be held to a higher standard than he would be if he were racially identified based on his white heritage.
I don't think that Obama is perfect, nor do I want him to be. I think that it is his ability to be fully human, flaws and all, that attracts me to him.
I love the historic significance of Senator Obama's speech. When has any candidate for any political office ever dared actually talk about race, truthfully, especially the part about black anger and white resentment? I feel as if I've been waiting my entire life for this level of engagement about the racial divide.
I've spent a great part of my life moving back and forth between a black world and a white one, between my family life and my professional life. I suppose that it is no surprise that eventually my social and personal life merged the two worlds, but always at a cost. In my black world, there were questions about my blackness; in the white world, there were those who made it clear that they did not welcome my blackness. Many black people have the same experience, so I don't think of it as poor pitiful me.
I like being a black woman; I draw my strength from all the black women who have come before me and who surround me. Yet I also draw strength from friendships and relationships that I've had across color lines. I feel that I've learned a lot from multiple perspectives and that I'm better for it.
I think that I had so much trouble simply answering Marc's recent hypothetical about choosing to change race or gender because I honestly can't imagine myself as anyone other than a black female. After all, no other group has mastered the art of indignant head wagging to better effect.
The video has nothing to do with this post; I just love Jackie Wilson. Before Michael Jackson ever moonwalked, there was Jackie Wilson. He was a phenomenal performer.