Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Personal Reflection

By Londell Jackson

I'm currently in my second year of my doctoral studies, and I have to say this process is unlike any other educational journey upon which I have embarked. Our professors warned us during our "orientation" of sorts, but at that time it really just seemed like some sort of propaganda. "This process will change your life," or something very similar, is what my cohort and I remember the most as we look back on this past year: all 15 of us. As we move forward and examine what this first year has meant to and for us all, I am reflect again on the class I took this summer, which became the catalyst for my disorientating dilemma.

I'd like to share with you all the reflection paper I submitted for a class titled, Diversity & Educational Policy, which I took this past summer. Given the conversations which are flowing in popular society now, I felt this piece relevant to share.

"This course helped me to identify an area for personal and professional growth which is related to my maturity around discussions of race. This course was disruptive for me. So much that I shut down for two weeks, in paralysis, and could not move. I was ashamed of the thoughts I was having about race, but had to figure out why this all bothered me so much. 

This course helped me to realize that race is a very sensitive issue for me, and is something I do not like to discuss. After three weeks of this class, I realized I was angry every Thursday. My anger came from knowing I would have to discuss topics I would rather not. Because of this disruption, I feel this has been the most moving course I have taken to date. I just hope I do not have many more experiences like this. But, if I should and I begin to have similar reactions, I now at least have a baseline for understanding this is all par for the course, and now understand how to move through it.

This course ripped a scab off of a wound which I have regarding racism. This wound is one which has been buried for quite some time. So long, in fact, I no longer knew it existed. I believe that my upbringing in Denver, CO has really influenced how I view race, and how I view and deal with race issues in my adult life. Having attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, perhaps, created an even greater confusion around my views of racism.

Growing up in Denver, I really never had to deal with the concept of race. I am of both Latin and African American heritage. I often refer to myself as Black, but when probed, I say I'm Afrolatino. My mother was Mexican and Puerto Rican, and my father is Black. I was raised in my mother's family, so I was used to not looking much like the people around me. My best friend, who lived across the street from me is of mixed race as well: Black and Caucasian. So, I supposed I have, for as long as I can remember, been predisposed to the mixing of color and class. The neighborhoods I grew up in (we moved a bit when I was younger) were often mixed, as were the schools I attended. I often had a variety of friends of all shapes, sizes, and colors. All this to say I seemed to have grown up in a melting pot of colors and cultures. 

 However, if I think back to some of my earliest memories related to race, they are not the most affirming. I distinctly remember, around the age of five or six, asking my mom's sister and brother, "what (race) they were?" I asked this question, because they were all fair skinned and had fair to lightly curly hair, where I was darker and was often told I had nappy hair. I remember them turning the question back at me and demanding I answer the question for myself. I replied, "whatever you are," to which they replied, "what is that?" I remember being incited to tears from this exchange only to be rescued by my granddad who was upstairs at that time. I took from this that race issues were not to be discussed. As I grew older, I distinctly remember my mom talking very negatively about folks from all races, but especially Black men. Further, I remember a friend of mine in second grade, who happened to be Vietnamese, was barred from associating with me after his mother discovered I was Black. Similarly, an incident between me and a Jewish girl in third grade haunts me to this day as I remember her telling me to my face that because I was Black, I could not begin to understand what it meant to love someone. This notion, she shared, was instigated by her parents. These memories, still painful, haunt me to this day, and surfaced during my time in this course.

Additional instances related to race occurred while I was in high school, where I was an overachiever. I was enrolled in advanced placement (AP) and accelerated courses from freshman year through my senior year. However, it was an instance in my junior year which seems to bother me most. The assistant principle of the school, who was White, decided it would be a great idea to create an Advanced Placement Committee. In hindsight, the concept was not a bad one, but it was the carryout of the thought which was most troubling. The members of the committee were all students of color, and our goal was to go to the remedial English, math, and science classes to encourage those students to push themselves, and as such, they too could be successful in AP classes. The majority of those students were students of color. I remember exactly how embarrassed and ashamed I felt immediately following these classroom visits. I do not know if, or how many, students actually took our advice, but I do remember being made fun of by people who looked like me for being a nerd, dork, or whatever word they chose at the time. I could not wait to graduate and leave that school.

I went to Morehouse College to be around successful Black men. I was not raised around any Black men who I aspired to be like, so I figured being in a predominately African American city and school environment would help my self-esteem and self-image. I learned two things while at Morehouse: what it means to be a Black man in the United States, and secondly, I could never be Black enough. During freshman orientation, I experienced what it was like to be inducted into a brotherhood. I created strong and lasting friendships which I still have to this day. However, during my three years at Morehouse (I did not graduate from that college), I was often jeered at for my mannerisms and for my speech. I have never been one to use slang, that just was not how I was raised. And because of this deficit, I seemed to stick out like a sore thumb, often prompting the question, "where are you from," or "what are you?" It appeared, at that time, that my plan to find a community to belong to, backfired. I felt persecuted by those whom I thought I would have the most in common, those I looked most like, simply because I talked differently. I spent a total of six years in Atlanta, and could go on about similar instances when I felt apart from a community I thought I would fit well in.

Now as a working adult and in an interracial marriage, I continue to be challenged by issues of racism. As I ascend in my career and educational goals, there are fewer and fewer people of color around me. I find myself further and further removed from my Black and Latin roots as I flourish in an often White world. 

This course brought these feelings to a head, and brought me to a paralysis. I was frozen and unable to move forward because my cage had been rattled so vigorously, I had to stop and figure things out. I came to the conclusion, as similarly identified in the movie The Butler, I was living a double life, or had two faces. One face was that of a gentle, even-tempered Black man who never saw race. This face helped my White supervisors, instructors, and friends to feel safe around me. This face was not the typical angry Black man that is seen on the evening news. 

But my other face, my other life was just that: an angry Black man. This face was only allowed to come out around my friends of color; my other black friends. This face was angry about the many times a White woman has clutched her purse when walking down the sidewalk as she saw me coming. This face was annoyed that he would just as soon get off of an elevator than to be alone with a White woman in that small confined space. This face was upset that when he walked down the hall or the street he felt the need to cast his eyes away from the young White teens so as to not invoke paranoia or fear within them. This face was tormented by the notion that when he's in a room with other White professionals he had to be silent and play the role of the house negro. This face was just plainly pissed off. So pissed of he was, that no amount of talk about White privilege would help to ease the pain, as a matter of fact, it just made it all the worse. Worse because he has heard this conversation for years, but things seem to never change. It feels as though as long as one talks about White privilege, no one ever really has to do anything about it. And while we discussed sexual diversity in this course, too, it was the discussion of race and privilege which upset us the most.

Each waking day, I deal with some sort of racism or homophobia. Living in Denver, I often experience racism in Denver's gay community. So, I find myself donning the face of the house negro, that is until I feel safe enough to express my true self: one who is frustrated with the way things are, one who is tired of all of the talk and is ready for some action. What I have learned most from this course is that I can no longer live two separate lives. I owe it to myself and to those around me to share my thoughts and feelings. It is only through this sharing when change can and will occur. In short, I can no longer be part of the problem and must be part of the solution."