The Noisy Water Review

Being Black in Modern America

Diane Tymony

It might sound strange, but sometimes I forget that I am black. There are times though, as I move about in the public sphere; say the grocery store, at school, or at some event, I can be hyperaware of it. I can’t help it. It’s impossible not to feel how different I am when my skin is juxtaposed against so many others. However, despite this, I do sometimes forget the implications of my skin. I sometimes forget that other people take a look at me and think that I’m up to no good; that I’m lazy, unmotivated, uneducated, don’t know who my father is, come from the ghetto, probably have a child, get angry or loud at the drop of a hat, steal, can’t be trusted, or that I am incapable of being a valuable asset to my community. I forget that people can see me this way without knowing a thing about me.

The reason I forget is simple. I am human. Throughout my day I have the same general worries as anybody of any race in my situation would have. What homework do I need to do? Do I have enough money to pay rent? Should I look for a better paying job? Should I decrease my hours at work since they’re conflicting with school? When my lease is up, where will I live? Should I spend this twenty on a dress or food? I don’t find my situation that particularly enthralling. There are millions of us attempting to build futures for ourselves while maintaining balance and sanity in the present. I am no different. I want the same things for my family and myself as anybody else.

However, there are those jolts of reality when you realize that others are incapable of seeing you that way; as human. I am taking an Intercultural Communications class. The point of the class is to be able to learn to effectively communicate with diverse individuals of varying backgrounds and cultures. In my Intercultural Communications class, we watched a documentary that we also watched in this Sociology class. The clip that got the Intercultural Communications class stirring was called Bourgeois Blues. In it, middle and upper class African-Americans voice feeling that working class African-Americans perceive them as stuck up and elitist, therefore, they do not always fit in with other African-Americans. However, they also do not fit in with white citizens making similar amounts of money because they are black and still not widely accepted in this class. Growing up in a middle-class family, I could relate to their feelings.

After the clip, a white woman raised her hand and went on a rant. She complained that she didn’t understand why “they” or “black folks” have to try so hard to fit into white culture. Why couldn’t they just be happy with the way they are? Why do they have to copy us? I was appalled. I’ve faced many forms of racism but this just didn’t make sense. So I voiced my opinion back. I said that people wanting nice houses, nice things, good schools for their kids, and a secure future wasn’t a white thing, it was a people thing. Wanting fine things and financial stability is part of American culture. Why can’t African Americans aspire to these things as well? Does that mean that they’re ashamed of their race? Does that mean they’re trying to be something they’re not? Above all, why is there something threatening about an affluent black American but not an affluent white American?

African-Americans continue to face discrimination in all sorts of ways. As Conley writes, discrimination is “harmful or negative acts against people deemed inferior on the basis of their racial category without regard to their individual merit” (361). It is frustrating to think that no matter how hard I work, there will still be a distinctive, and perhaps somewhat sizeable, group of people who will continue in their attempt to push me out of this world.

The discussion became somewhat heated I suppose. My professor attempted to make a point that blacks are the only group that have been enslaved in America and that this still affects the country today. At this, the woman got upset and said, “So?! They need to get over it!” While I sat in my seat fuming and shaking, I listened to my classmates sigh and exclaim at her statement. My teacher silenced the woman and moved on to a different subject. But the entire exchange sat with me for days afterwards and I still revisit the moment.

I have heard and been told on a number of occasions that black people are too sensitive and that we get offended over everything. In such situations, the person has always been white. The only way I can explain it is this: I think when anyone has gone through immense pain; it’s frustrating when other people act like it isn’t real or it isn’t a big deal. I compare it to when I lost my father. I would feel even more hurt when friends or acquaintances would wave off the ache I was struggling with.

Racism affects our entire world. In the case of the United States, it’s a collective struggle of an entire group still trying to figure out where they fit into a society that has looked at them as lesser beings, enslaved them, devalued them, alienated them, ostracized them, and at times is still trying in indirect and subtle ways to keep them from fully integrating into society, while all the while denying that anything wrong ever happened. Despite such phenomena, I am proud of what I am. Conley describes ethnicity as, “one’s ethnic quality or affiliation.” (339). I may face stratification, which is structured social inequality (Conley 240), but it certainly has not diminished my pride in my family, my ancestors, and myself.

Works Cited

Conley, Dalton. You May Ask Yourself. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. Print.

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