Courtesy of Creative Commons via Flicker
When was the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror and asked the question of yourself?
"Who am I?
It's a possibility that the first thing you're going to say is your name. Get deeper with it; what defines you as an individual? What you may consider as the definition of your existence may very well be different from what others define you as just from your outward appearance.
In the eyes of others, it will almost always be based upon your ethnicity -- if you're black then you are supposed to act, dress and talk the way society expects you to. If you're a black man or woman from the south then you're automatically lacking in intelligence; if you're a black woman you have an attitude or you're angry. You must listen to rap or hip hop music too, right? "Wait, why are you listening to Barry Manilow? You ain't black listening to that ish!"
This kind of thing happens all the time -- it's called racial stereotyping.
Ignorance prevails and it instills in us all that we should not have our own sense of individuality, but instead that we are expected to be identical to others whose skin pigmentation is the same as ours.
Everyday a black man or woman was approached for days, weeks and months after the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections with the following words or a slight variation; "Gee willikers, I sure bet that you're glad Obama won, aren't ya?"
It happened to me 12 times in a period of four days. Much less, these occurrences were all at my day job, which is in a bank where I am the only black man, in a high income community within Northern California that is roughly 95 percent Caucasian.
The standard and "polite" response would be one of three possibilities; "You have no idea how glad I am; it's time for a change!" Or; "Well, I actually voted for the other guy." The third option can be great fun for those of us who practice the use of proper English -- this means that we can simply placate the stereotypes by saying; "Hell yeah, nigga! I'm glad that nigga won! We finally got a nigga in office! Now it means a nigga like me can get a job! Yeah, nigga!"
Watching the facial expression of the individual you try the third option with is one of the most priceless moments that you'll ever have in life, this I promise you.
I don't know about you, my fellow readers -- but maybe it's the journalist in me, I always responded by asking a question that sadly most of us wouldn't have thought to ask but should have.
"What makes you think I voted for President Obama?"
In every single instance of the 12 times it was assumed that I voted for President Obama, I asked that question. In every single one of those times the person who made the assumption was of the Caucasian persuasion, the blood rushed to their faces, it's safe to assume that their palms began to sweat, and the not one of the individuals knew how to answer my question.
Pretty sad, huh?
By National Defense University, via Wikimedia Commons
Not just that it was automatically assumed that I voted for President Obama, but that it was assumed solely based on the color of my skin. None of these individuals knew anything of my religious or political beliefs. They saw a young black man, well dressed, and well spoken working in a service industry. In particular an industry that traditionally pays its employees quite shabbily. These are all things that would color me a Democrat, right?
President Obama had 97 percent of the black vote for the 2012 election. Why? Was it based off of his qualifications to get the job done? Was he the president that looked the coolest? Did we as black people vote for him because he was black and our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers voted for him?
Recent statistics show a sharp decline in the knowledge of civics and all things concerning American government in the U.S. So, if we as a society are largely not civically aware, then what is the real reason we elected President Obama to a second term?
Racial stereotyping can be and often is a two-way street. Sometimes we look at our own culture and find ourselves listening to types of music, talking a certain way, dating a particular type of man or woman, or even dressing in ways that don't truly define us as individuals. We cater to the stereotypes that society has affixed to us courtesy of the mainstream media.
It's important to realize that although we are black, we are still individuals.
As a community, we have lost sight of what being black truly is. We define being black as the way in which someone walks, talks, dresses, the music someone listens to, and the television and films that someone watches. If someone who is black does not conform to these stereotypical standards, they're accused of being whitewashed, gay, an Uncle Tom or some other ignorant label affixed to someone who is being black -- but also equally as important, being true to themselves.
The things that we should be concerned with in respect to who we are and to our heritage are where we have been, where we are, and where we're going. We can only get somewhere positive by uniting intelligently rather than dividing ignorantly.
Let this story serve as a challenge -- a challenge for each person who reads it to look in the mirror and define themselves; not by the color of your skin and what society expects you to be because of it, but by your own sense of pride in who you are as an individual.
I'm proud to be black, but I won't be a slave to racial stereotyping.
Originally published in Maybach Magazine, March 2013