Friday, March 2, 2007

Who the hell am I anyway?

I was just doing some research online about folks I grew up around. I know that I was fortunate to be middle class. I came across an an interview with a woman I knew as a child. Her father was one of my dad's best friends. He was also the first person who made me feel short when I was 5'8" at age 12. He is also one of the people to whom I alluded in a recent post. That one in which I said my dad and his friends said that I was better at assimilating than they were. Actually when I wrote that line, I was thinking of what he told me shortly before his death while driving to Sacramento for a fish fry at my dad's house. He said, "You and and my daughter will achieve much more than we ever will because you know how to speak how white people want you to. But you can still talk to us as well. We can't go back and forth between the two worlds as easily as you do." OK. I put quotation marks around the statements but these weren't his exact words. Perhaps this is why the owner of of my former home away from home in North Beach calls me the Valley girl from Richmond. And at the same time, I had classmates, because I went to public school, who were not as privileged as I was. A lot like my mother's family. Because no matter how much privilege I may achieve, I still have relatives who will never be able to equal me in social status as determined by the mainstream. And this is what keeps me grounded. Because these folks? Many of them are my favorite relatives. Because they lack pretension.

Recently I have had my students ask about my family background -- because they, like the people I encountered in Virginia, considered me to be on the fairer end of the spectrum. (And this is what I meant when I said that Black folks have to deal with their own demons that are a result of slavery/apartheid. You know. That self-hate.) I told my students that if you go back into my family tree, you will find folks who were not African.

The closest of these folks would be my mother's paternal grandfather. He was Native American and White. I have always joked about my father being from below the gnat line (that would be southern Georgia) always searched for a woman fairer than he. Me? I ended up somewhere between my parents complexion-wise. And although I basically look like my father, my features have been more Eurotized (Yep. I'm trying to make up my own words now. Hell. If Bush can, then so can I.)in some ways due to my mother's side. Because my mother? She explained to me while I was in high school that she wears lipstick because she has a very small upper lip. In the 70s I hated the fact that I had full lips. Then in the 80s, I was doing a fashion show and the makeup artist told me that one of my best features was my lips. That's when I started venturing out and wearing non-neutral colors because suddenly I was not ashamed about who I was.) And why the joke? Because my stepmother is from Louisiana, pure Creole. I remember going through my dad's mother's photo albums after her death and being asked who the White woman standing next to my dad was. Ummmm. That would be my stepmother. And she's not White. Now these same folks have decided that I am truly Redbone, like my mother's family. Sometimes I question my quest for finding genealogical information on the family. I mean, if I could prove my great grandfather's heritage, that would make me 1/16 Native American. (I started researching this information long before the insurgence of Indian casinos.) And somehow although the Native Americans have not had the best of fates in this country, some days being that is better than being African American. Because that is what this country has taught me. How to hate all that I should be celebrating in myself. And then I think that I grew up pretty damned privileged so how does the other half of my people feel? Well, if my cousins are any evidence, they are damn pissed. And I really don't blame them.

Now I'm remembering how about a year ago I ended a ten-year friendship. It seems that we could not see eye-to-eye about food. And yeah, she'll tell you that she is a person of color but technically she is Caucasian as most Mediterranean people are. I will not argue that she is not strongly ethnic though.

Oh. And this whole race thing? Totally manmade. Or at least that's what one of my professors in my teaching credential program told us. He's a cultural anthropologist. He said, that as far as anthropologists are concerned, there is only one race -- human. But somehow we feel the need to split ourselves into groups by some random definitions.

That's what I was trying to get to before. What is African American has always been defined by the dominant (White) society. My anger came from White liberals then trying to tell me from what equality should look like. To me this just sounds like more like noblesse oblige. And that would be like "more of the same" to me, at least. The only reason why I can think that the dominant group would do this is to maintain the status quo. If the liberals and progressives really wanted to make some headway, then they would let groups self-define. And not within the narrow constraints that we currently see.

Hmmm. Just made me think. Perhaps I should have not received such a good evaluation. Because before I entered the field of education, I questioned things but never to this extent. Or maybe it's just an age thing. But the one thing upon which I agree with my students is Gnarls Barkley.

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb,
And all I remember is thinkin' I wanna be like them. hmhmhm

Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun,
And it's no coincidence I've come, mmm
And I can die when I'm done.

But maybe I'm crazy?
Maybe you're crazy?
Maybe we're crazy?

Every time I hear these lyrics, I think about how much my parents and folks before them sacrificed so that I could assimilate so well. And then I want to cry. Because I feel their pain and anxiety. Letting their only daughter loose in a world that, as far as they know, would never be willing to truly accept her.

Eh. Enough of this stuff. Happy Friday. I plan to have some cocktails tonight. At the usual place. Because yesterday after school, I spent time hanging out with some veteran teachers. It seems that everyone agrees that one of the key factors in surviving teaching upper grades is alcohol. Because we love the kids but sometimes they can drive you nuts. And you've just got to kick your heels up and let go of all the craziness.

No comments:

Post a Comment