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Monday, February 27, 2012

What shade of America am I?


This morning the hubby, my daughter and I went to a diner for breakfast. At the table, my daughter reached her hands out for her dad's hands, looked at them and asked:

“Dad, what are you?”
“I'm hazelnut baby” (although I think he is more of light caramel)
“Come on daddy!”, she replied. She then asked, “Okay, then what am I?”
“You are Mocha Latte baby”, he replied.
“DADDY!!! Seriously, what nationality are you?”

(She thinks, in this country called America, there are many different nationalities, as she hears African-American, Italian- American, Irish-American, etc.)

“Well baby… I am part ALL and some some...”

The conversation kept on as she really wanted to know the different “chromosomes” that would help identify her background. How is she supposed to define herself ethnically to others? She is becoming more and more conscious of the fact that, with all the different shades (skin tones) in our extended family, there's bound to be different backgrounds (the root of her interrogation was the fact she heard the singer Beyonce stated that she was part French, Native American and African American). While her dad kept on teasing her, I blurted out “you are American baby girl, that’s all”.

I tuned out of that conversation and start thinking of what my husband had said to her... “I’m part ALL and some some”... Doesn’t that sum up Americans?

What a great time to have this conversation; we are just a few days away from the end of “Black History Month”. Almost at the end of seeing all those advertisements, highlighting the work, influence and impact black people have contributed, making this the free country that we now live in, known as America. So why do we find it important to have this month long moment? We celebrate our ancestors’ fight for our equality, but can also take pride in the results of their battle by, every day of our life, calling ourselves American (just American and not African-American). Being black, isn’t your ethnic background, your African gene and your ancestors’ history attached to you and as obvious as a uniform you proudly earn and wear every single day? Why do we allow ourselves to perpetrate unnecessary diversity labeling? 
How foolish is it that my 9 year old needs us to breakdown her origins, not as a learning experience, but to be able to define herself. Seemingly, it’s not only a sub part of America, but also a sub part of a sub part of America… What are we really celebrating here?

What happens when February comes to an end?

Diversity: The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.

When opening the doors of this big country called United States of America, you see, feel and experience the diversity that created it. Different colors, different smells, different shapes, different heights, different cultures and different races. But why is it that, where our dissimilarities should have made us stronger, it made us weaker? Diversity, which is part of the world DNA, instead of being cherished, brought discernment against our differences and ultimately racial discrimination. Why is it that birds of different feathers will sometimes congregate together but can’t pledge to look out for one another? Unless we start defining ourselves as American and not by all its sub ethnic entities we will never be the strong country we were meant to be.
Some might say “Who am I to speak?”, “What do I know about the history of the ancestors of this country?”, and “I’m not from here so I can’t understand”. To that I would reply: there is no denying my roots, and it is with pride, that when you look at me, you see the African in me. You can tell by my skin, my accent and my demeanor, just as much as I see the African in you, although you have a different accent, hair texture and demeanor. Granted, today through marriage, my nationality is American. Because of that and my 2 beautiful children, embedded in me is the history of this country. But even before that, you all need to know that I understood something; that myself, my parents and grandparents didn’t grew up here, and didn’t have to live through the oppression that the black forefathers of this country endured. However, somewhere further back down the line, your history is connected to mine because our ancestors are from the same land. So… Your history is my history, which gives you the answer to why I have an opinion, who I am to have one, and what I know.

Maybe I don’t understand because I grew up in Europe. The way things work there is quite different. Whether you were born there, or immigrated there, you are who you are. If you are a citizen of France, Spain or Italy, then you’re French, Spanish or Italian. Not “Afro-French”, or “Afro-Spanish”, or “Afro-Italian”. Even though you’re origins are obvious to everyone, it seems to me that shaped the way I look at the whole matter. I think you should speak of yourself as a member of the whole, while your individual culture will speak for itself.

“My hero is my history and my history is a legacy of people who have triumph over tragedy, who have succeeded in spite of oppression. How can I fail, because they thought me failure is not an option. We are All as people, as a country destined to succeed” ~Beverly Kearny

Speak, scream, protest, march, complain, and rally against your own oppression, because those before us laid themselves on the line to give us that power, and the right to do so. Use our ancestors’ legacy as a learning tool, not as a pretext to differentiate ourselves and demand continuous “amends”. What we should learn from our predecessors who engaged in the civil right movement is that the gift they passed on to us was that, going forward, we as people from all different backgrounds, can and need to take control of our own history. With the movement, they gave minorities to a voice and Caucasians opened their eyes to the segregated world they had created. Let’s celebrate year round for Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Viola Liuzzo, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, JFK, Black Churches, students, ect… All those blacks and whites, who created, lived the movement and help make life better for black, Asians, Mexicans, and Caucasians alike. They fought for you, for all of us, not so that we could be weighed down by discrimination, but instead, for us to be able to stand tall, taller than they ever did.

I personally believe that limiting the celebration of one heritage to a specific month not only takes the joy out of it and magnifies the obvious differences, but it also perpetrates differences. Everyday, I look at myself in the mirror and celebrate the image of me, what it represents past and future and honor that legacy by portraying and embracing it with pride, just as I expect any other race to be proud of themselves and the strides we ALL made as human beings.

Let’s celebrate the Americans that we are!

“I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for ALL people”
~ Rosa Parks

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or white woman”
~ Nelson Mandela


I had my husband read this before I posted it to get his point of view as I know this is a sensitive subject. He said to me “it is hard for people to let go of their resentment for the wrongs that have been done and paranoia as we are still being treated unfairly! We are rightfully eerie of the authority figures of this country. You just can’t understand… And as far as Black History Month, we had nothing but now we at least have that.”

Although I’m not going to change anything I wrote, I just want to stress that my point is not to say the bad experiences which occurred in the past or at this moment or are bound to happen, are not realities that needs to be remembered, voiced and dealt with; what I’m trying to say is that we need to change the way we define ourselves because through the bad sprinkle with a little good, your, our ancestors have gained the right for us to be called American.
We earned a month to celebrate us, why don’t we make more strides and celebrate us at all time…

         Love always,
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