Friday, August 31, 2012

Talking about race…questioning identity

Despite the lack of blog posts as proof, Pat and I have continued to talk about race… but committing those words to paper has been tricky. But we have agreed to talk struggle and write on…Believe us, this is harder than it looks!

For this post, we’re reflecting—independently—on the concept of race and identity. As a Black female, I threw the question out there…which am I first? Or perhaps, how do I more strongly identify—as being Black or as being female. My thoughts on that question may have been interesting—but Pat, as she often does, flipped the issue on its head, and came up with a question technically equivalent, but still far more interesting.

Basically, Pat asked if I could imagine Mitt Romney, Harry Reid, Bill Clinton (ha ha!), or Ryan Seacrest contemplating whether they are male or White first? While this question regarding race and identity seems highly relevant for me, I wonder what would drive a Caucasian male to ponder this.

For me, I thought about my race and gender much more when I moved abroad. I found the experience “interesting” when I moved to Germany…There, I felt more defined by my being American. Although perceptions of my being Black and female were slightly different than how I’d grown up thinking about them—it still was not something that challenged me.

China was a very different matter—these were topics that I agonized over regularly. Let's just say that I stood out... a lot; and I found it quite stressful. I had a tall blonde friend who told me that, on the street, people treated her the same way as they did me…but it didn’t bother her. By comparison, I knew other black women (regardless of nationality) who felt similarly as I did.

Anyway, I could go into detail about this experience and my thoughts on it, but for now, I think my major point is that based on these experiences abroad, I do think that both my race and my gender are parts of my identity and that they are shaped by social structures and history. Choosing to challenge, question, or accept these parts of my identity depends on place, depends on the person I’m interacting with.

Living abroad, I realized that people saw me differently (a simple fact) and I was forced more to draw on perhaps the deeper (and more true?) aspects of my personality (read identity?) to react and interact with these people who were strangers and culturally strange to me…while it wasn’t always pretty, it also could be fun and interesting.

The environment where I live and the people I associate with are factors that I can’t control (even if I can to some extent choose where I live). I, of course, can’t choose my race, gender, etc. etc. etc. But thanks to my experiences, my race, and my gender, I am lucky to be challenged to question who I am and to contemplate the person that I want to project to the world.

 Maybe Mitt isn’t as lucky...