It’s true. I’m abandoning the blog. I’m not a blogger, at least not now and not full-time. I’m a fiction writer.
But before I go, I want to use this space to ask my friends to help me with some questions I have about race and racism. Please know that I’m asking these questions not to offend but to learn how to best love my neighbor.
Also, you should know that this has come to the forefront of my mind because of Americanah by Chimimanda Ngochi Adichie.
Without further ado, here are my questions about race (with preamble on some research on how to define terms):
Race, as defined by “Cultural Anthropology” by Ember and Ember: “in biology, race refers to a subpopulation or variety of species that differs somewhat in gene frequencies from other varieties of the species. All members of a species can interbreed and produce viable offspring. Many anthropologists do not think that the concept of race is usefully applied to humans because humans do not fall into geographical populations that can be easily distinguished in terms of different sets of biological or physical traits. Thus, race in humans is largely a culturally assigned category.” (So why do we use this term, and functionally, what do we mean by it? Even “culturally assigned category[ies]”, does this mean there’s only one “African-American” culture?)
Culture (defined by same authors): “the set of learned behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, values, and ideals that are characteristic of a particular society or population”
Ethnicity (defined by same authors): “the process of defining ethnicity usually involves a group of people emphasizing common origins and language, shared history, and selected aspects of cultural difference such as a difference in religion.” (This seems more helpful than “race”, but I still don’t understand how it applies to “African-American” or “Asian-American” or “Hispanic” or “Latino/a.”)
So as I try to figure out what these terms mean (or what we mean by these terms)…
What does it mean to say someone is African-American or Asian-American, and how does this relate to race or culture? How does this apply to, say, friends of mine who came from South Africa and are now American citizens? By the way, they’re white. Why is it that I’m not called Euro-American or something like that? Does “African-American” actually say anything about who someone is? What if their ancestry has been in the United States longer than mine has been? And what about the fact that “African” or “Asian” is not really a good descriptor of race or culture or ethnicity because it’s so broad? Or what if their ancestry came, yes, from Africa but via, say Dominican Republic or England? What of the term “Hispanic” or “Latino/a”? What if someone comes from Mexico but has no Spanish ancestry? (And, pardon my ignorance, but does “Latino/a” mean having some sort of Latin ancestry? If that’s the case, aren’t I Latina?) Are any of these terms helpful? Why do we use them? Is there a better way? I don’t mean to say that we should all be colorblind or that color is not significant, but in what ways is it significant and in what ways is it not significant?
How do we prioritize what is meaningful to our identity (individual and shared): ancestry? shared history? And how far back do we go with shared history—my generation, three generations? What are the things that unite us and what are the things that divide us?
By the way, I don’t mean to say that even if we live on the same block we have the same experiences of the world. People treat us differently based on color. The sins of the fathers visit for generations, so just because Jim Crow laws don’t exist anymore doesn’t mean that we’re not still experiencing the ramifications of them in my day. But I’m trying to probe how we move forward, how we see each other, identify with each other, how we listen to each other and know one another. I want something easy, like, well, as I get to know individuals, I can listen to their stories, get to know them, and I think there’s something to that, but I don’t know that that’s enough, not when most of my church is white because most of the people in the suburb where my church is located are white. Not when most of my friends are white even though I live in a neighborhood with so many Indian and Middle-eastern immigrants (and second generations).
(Confession: I suck at meeting new people. So I go to story time at my library, where as a white person, I’m in the minority, and I want to meet others there, but I just suck at it—it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or whether or not your head is covered. I’m no good at going up to someone and striking up conversation.)
So there it is. Thoughts?