You ask about my cultural self? To be totally honest, I’m still trying to figure that out myself. As a 20 something year old, I’m just trying to figure life out really. I can try to explain to you what I’ve learned thus far though about my cultural self. Buckle up.
Growing up, I don’t ever remember being challenged or even encouraged to think about my cultural self. I knew that I was Black, and that was it, what else needed to be discussed? I wasn’t really privy to the idea that being Black meant so much more than skin color and participating in the Black History Program once a year. I just didn’t know. I hate to admit it, but because I wasn’t properly educated beforehand, I walked around racially numb and ignorant to the role that my race, gender, and even social upbringing played in my life until my sophomore year in college. Attending a predominantly white institution, I was first introduced to the idea that I would be judged based off of my outward appearance long before I even opened my mouth to speak. There was a prevalent racial divide that existed on campus between the white and minority students (African-American students to be more specific) that nobody paid much attention to. I will never forget the day that my racial conscious was awakening when I was in a meeting working on a group project with 3 other white students and one made what he thought was funny joke by saying that all the Africa-American students in the class (which was only 2 including myself) would get really excited to hear that we put a hip-hop song in our presentation. Wait…What?? That was my initial reaction when he finished is idiotic thought and the other 2 group members decided to laugh like he was the funniest comedian since Eddie Murphy. Who died a made you the Mr. Know it All of Black people? How can you be so sure that all Black people listen to hip-hop? What makes you think it’s okay to speak for an entire population based off the few interactions you’ve had with your “Black friends”? These were all thoughts that were circulating around my head as I sat there and watched them laugh at my race in what I interpreted as mockery. That’s right, I just sat there. Upset at the fact that I’d been disrespected, confused because I had never been in a situation like this, and small because I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t join in the laughter but I didn’t do anything to halt it either; in my eyes I was just as much the culprit as they were.
As I walked to the bus stop to head home with my bruised ego in tow, I wondered how I ended up in this predicament. What had I done to make him think it was not only appropriate but acceptable to make a remark like that? Moreover, why couldn’t I speak up about it? I felt like I was in a war that I didn’t even sign up for. I was attacked without any preparation at all. At that moment, it was revealed to me what being Black really meant. It went far beyond color for me. This is the day that I gained ownership of my culture and ethnicity; realizing that one could be born with a certain racial identity and have no true connection to that identity whatsoever unless and until he or she were willing to be active in that initiation process. As a result, I decided that I wanted to be a proud African-American, one who would be offended and get upset if I felt that my race was being disrespected AND do something to stop/prevent it.
Later on down in my college career, I soon learned the disheartening news that some people themselves are unconscious and make absurd remarks based off what they see on television not realizing that they are being disrespectful. The fact is that my group member, a privileged longhorn legacy, would have made that joke regardless of my social awareness or lack there of. It was then that I realized that I wouldn’t be able to control what people said but I could always be prepared to negate the stereotypes, advocate for a more accurate perspective of my race, and hopefully educate those ill-informed individuals who were blissfully ignorant and didn’t even know it. I’d be ready for the next round and that was a promise (cue the infamous Rocky music)! This traumatic experience was a daunting challenge but also an educational opportunity as well. The psychological imprint it left on my heart and my mind was reason enough for me to NEVER want to be caught unprepared in a situation like that again and not have a proper response. And that my friends is when I subconsciously gave birth to my social conscious.
“When you’re saying nothing, what exactly are you really saying?”