Incomplete thoughts on race
I have always been interested in people from other cultures. I credit my parents for this. They were Scouts and there was always a place for cultural interest within the Scouts program. My parents also loved history and especially my dad would tell many stories of our French and Huguenot ancestors, while my mom would throw out thoughts for English and Viking backgrounds. In high school, I was always drawn to the foreign exchange students. My senior year, there was a girl from South Africa. She was from Durban and had pictures from the beach when it was first integrated and from when black citizens were given the right to vote. Those images were powerful and began an awakening in me that continues to this day.
In college I continued taking French and went on to take classes in African American history. I became friends with African American students who opened my eyes to a different life in the U.S. and a different thought process about our history. It broke my heart to learn of Jim Crow. During this time, there was a world wide movement with Nelson Mandela and all eyes were on South Africa. I was listening to Bob Marley and Ella Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker and thoughtful about each of their stories and how they influenced justice. I also read, listened to and watched Martin Luther King and just sat broken hearted and stunned. Although things are changing, at the time, ethnicities in the U.S. seemed to run parallel tracks. I remember watching Spike Lee movies and having the same questions, “Why can’t we all get along and why do people not mix?” I fell in love with Anthropology and majored in Cultural. I was learning about racism and cultural anthropology and about the influences of racism ON anthropology. It was also when Rwanda exploded with genocide and I watched helpless and angry as the world leaders let that place explode. Don’t even get me started about world imperialism.
I have thought about racial problems for years and now I have been to many places in the world. I mostly still have questions! It surprised me to learn that even in countries where people seem to me to look similar, there is still a value on light skin or certain facial features. When we lived in Uganda, it tickled us to no end when a Ugandan friend would say, “The black one, over there.” As a white person, that was confusing to me, but they could see things I couldn’t see. In Asian cultures, light skin is also valued to the point where you see people using umbrellas in the sun. In Song of Solomon, a woman laments that her skin is dark because her brothers make her work in the fields. So, lighter skin might mean wealth and privilege and give more value. I ask myself, why is this?
For me, there are many philosophies and systems that don’t satisfy my sense of justice or hope for change. When I looked into Rastafarianism, it at first was appealing but then as I read deeper into the movement, I realized that they promote killing white people and moving back to Africa and living under King David’s banner in Ethiopia. I didn’t fit into that movement to say the least. I have a very radical and revolutionary nature, but I just can’t get into violence. I liked how Josephine Baker in the 40’s was part of the French resistance through her dance and singing. She had a free pass as a female entertainer and was able to act as a spy and courier. Click here to watch an amazing video. I also identify with writers who use language as a form of resistance and exposure of inequality.
I wanted to explain a bit about my interest and back ground and write a couple of pieces about what I feel is missing in the conversation about race. I have personal interests in racial equality and culture. I think so many valuable things are being written about race all over the world and have for a long time, so I am not attempting to address racism. I would just like to explore and add the posture of respect of culture. I think that is missing. We don’t respect each others cultures enough. Culture crosses lines of gender, race and history, but it has a unique place for thought and requires intentionality on our part. I strongly believe that the questions anthropologists and cross cultural workers ask work and are helpful. How do you respect another’s history and culture even when it is in your own country and how do you apply that to visitors and immigrants? My question is not how do we get over it, but rather how do we move towards each other in this racially and ethnically diverse nation?