Within these past few years, the many cases concerning cop brutality such as Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, and Michael Brown have now gotten me thinking. More than anything when I look at these instances, all centering on the deaths of black men in result of white cops, I see a cultural problem rather than a racial one.
In November, I attended a Phi Sigma Pi (History Honor Society) meeting in which we discussed the anniversary and the effects of the 1964 Civil Rights act. The sponsor, after presenting his presentation, recognized a fellow colleague and teacher who decided to attend, as she revealed to us the topic of civil rights was close to her heart. The older African-American lady who he introduced as a past and present Civil Rights activist was involved in the cross nation boycotts and protests, that started back in the 60's. After receiving her permission, he began to ask her questions concerning her experience fighting for Civil Rights and what she thought civil rights looks like today. In response to his first question, which was “How far do you think we’ve come today”, she literally said that nothing has changed except blacks don’t have their shackles and chains on anymore. He continued to ask her questions including what she expected of today’s generation in which she responded that she was extremely disappointed in the blacks at our high school because they continually ignored her and did not acknowledge her as being a successful, black educator. She continued by saying that in her day in age any chance of spotting a black educator was rare and that respect was guaranteed from fellow African-American pupils. The sponsor asked her a few more questions and ended with “how do you view yourself in today’s day and age?”. She replied that she was a racist, but in elaboration clarified that her definition of racist meant she was in favor and loved all races.
After the sponsor's questioning ended, he opened the room of students up to asking any questions and the class composed mostly of white students stayed quiet. It was at this point that I found it very necessary to provide my opinion on what she had said. When I raised my hand to speak, I’m sure the lady expected a fellow black to share in her self-pity and provide my personal stories of discrimination, but that didn’t exactly happen. First, I began to say that while in the nation’s past instances of white superiority and racism dominated the country, today holding those same grudges would get us nowhere. And while we shouldn't forget the past, passing the blame of earlier generations on current ones was detrimental to any attempts at progress. I then began to say that in my own life, I had seen far greater instances of racism from black Americans than I ever had from caucasian Americans. I brought up the point of African-Americans constantly asking me why I am so “white”. However, I have never been asked by a white person why I’m not so “black”. I told the story of an African-American, who after discovering I was adopted by a Caucasian family, asked if my parents beat me. I continued by saying that when we had first moved the U.S, my brother Joel a sophomore in high school had been confronted by a couple of black kids riding the bus to school, who after approaching him asked if he was afraid of them due to the color of their skin. He replied, “no, of course not”, explaining that he had lived the past eight years in South African and had two younger sisters darker than them from Africa and if anything they should be afraid of him (nailed it, a Joel). I ended my speech to the lady by saying that I, as a student, black or not, would never acknowledge her or wave to her in the hallway because of the color of her skin. I said that I would acknowledge her or wave to her because she was an educator and a superior, and that was the respectable thing to do, regardless of color. After I finished talking, it definitely left both her and the class in shock.
What really shocked me is what she said about nothing having changed for African Americans. From my perspective, a lot has changed for them and they are definitely treated as equals, and perhaps even better than other races in this country. Take for instances African-American scholarships, magazines, television,and theatre. They've secluded themselves off from the world, but still expect to be a part of it. While it partially has to do with their race, they've basically isolated their culture from other American cultures. They've even isolated themselves from other black cultures in the world from Europe and Africa. Being from South Africa, I don't associate myself with African-American, not because I've blended in with white Americans, but because their culture and practices aren't what I have been taught to be. The lady also said that she taught her teenage sons, how to approach and be around white cops. They needed to be respectful and obedient and do everything the right way. They had to watch out for themselves and look for trouble. Well, of course. Black or not, confronting cops will always end in chaos; and if you look for trouble in the world you can always find it. The truth is that my parents never taught me to look for trouble growing up and I'm just as black and maybe even darker than her sons. I was raised to be obedient and respectful of all authority and now as a teen have nothing to fear for the future ahead. Eventually, one day, I won't be able to hide behind the curtains of my Caucasian family. I'll go out into the world and have to establish my own reputation, not as a black or dark-skinned, but as a person.
Being a third culture kid has definitely opened me up in instances like these. After seeing so much of the world, I'm not always so inclined to have an instant stand on topics. Where as some people are narrow minded and limited in what they've experienced, I've seen a lot of cultures and have a widened understanding for things that happen. I think this can be said for a lot of Third Culture Kids. What people need to realize is that the problems of this world today are not always racially targeted. The problems of today are from pride, selfishness, and a lack of faith. The broken relationships we see and experience in society are definitely due from more than color...it's a cultural thing.
Written by Grace Ingram
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