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Who Am I?

“What is Your Nationality?”


I am a geek.  For me, that means I’m a fan of anime and Star Wars, and a lot of other miscellaneous sci-fi, and I play regularly with multiple table-top RPG groups.  I’m employed in the IT field; I’m trained as a network security engineer, but for right now I work on a tech help desk.  (It pays the bills.)

Additionally, I enjoy pulp detective novels and fantasy adventure stories.  (I once had a massive comic book collection, also, but that’s an entirely different story.)

I'm well rounded in other areas, too.

I like to hunt and fish, and go hiking, backpacking, and camping.  I’m a lapidarist.  (For most of you, that’s otherwise known as a rock collector, though they’re actually minerals, but we won’t get into that here.)  I’m an accomplished gourmet  (a skill my housemate informed me I was not allowed to leave out of this piece).  I’m good with animals.  I enjoy jazz, blues, and classical music, but I prefer rock & roll to country, hip hop, pop, and R&B.

For the record, I am also African American.

Does that surprise you?

Most people who haven’t met me in person wouldn’t assume that's the case right off the bat.

             “But do you really think of yourself as black?”

This is a question I get asked a lot.  It usually comes in response to my answer to the first question.

When you add together the personal attributes that I’ve listed here, most people don’t feel like they paint a cohesive picture of my race.  At least, not a typical one, anyway.  But, really, what does paint a typical picture of a person’s race?

I’m happy being a geek.  I’m comfortable in my own skin.  I like me.  I’m content with who I am.  And who I am is not entirely determined by my race, or my skin tone, though these things do contribute.  In addressing who I am, I feel it’s more important to note that I am a loving father.  I am a man of integrity.  I’m patient, soft-spoken, and slow to anger.  I speak with thoughtfulness, and act with kindness.   These traits are not a result of my color, or my background, either.  They are a product of the way I was raised.

I split my time growing up between two very different places.  One, a suburb of St Paul, where there are very few people of color, and the other, a small town in Louisiana comprised primarily of African Americans, the majority of whom were in some form or fashion either directly or indirectly related to me.  Growing up in the suburbs may have had something to do with shaping my personality, because I might have unknowingly altered some of what might otherwise been my natural behaviors in order to fit in there, but who I am today was primarily molded by my mother’s influence.  She didn’t want any of her children to be perceived as ghetto.  She wanted us to have the best education, to speak properly, and to have a larger world view than that of the neighborhood we grew up in.  She wanted us to understand our roots.  She required us to read books on the experience of slavery, the American Civil Rights movement, and the accomplishments of notable African Americans in our history.  She wanted us to be connected to our heritage, but more than that, she wanted us to not be limited by our race.

And even that is something of mixed bag.

My Mom’s family is African American and Lakota.  My Dad comes from African American and Cajun  stock.  His paternal grandfather was a lily white, blue eyed Frenchman.  My mom’s paternal grandfather was East Indian.  I am sometimes confused for East Indian, myself.  I’ve been accused of looking Somali, at times – once by my own cousin.  (I should clarify, at the time, I’d straightened my hair – I was going through a phase – don’t judge me, it was the 90s.)  My housemate tells me I should learn an East Indian accent, just because I could get away with it, and maybe use it to avoid stupid questions from time to time.  (However, she also tells me all my attempts so far have been pathetic enough that I should not quit my day job.)

I’m not usually bothered when somebody not of African American descent asks about my nationality.  It bugs me when it comes from someone black, though, because, after I admit honestly to my heritage, almost inevitably, I get the same followup question...

            “Are you ashamed to be black?”

No.  I’m not ashamed to be black.  And, quite frankly, the question itself offends me.  I never know how to answer it.  Because being black isn’t all there is to me.  I’m also not ashamed of my interests.  I’m not ashamed of my tastes.  I’m not ashamed of the personal characteristics that make up what you see as me, even if they don’t conform to your understanding of what it is to be black.

I’m not ashamed of who I am.

I don’t feel the need to act in a certain way to be considered black.  I shouldn’t have to look like a hip hop artist.  I shouldn’t have to speak gangsta.  I shouldn’t need to be mistaken in public for a thug, a hood, or a criminal.  There’s absolutely no reason that my very presence, just because of my skin tone alone, should make anyone feel uncomfortable, and there’s certainly no reason for me to create that level of discomfort unnecessarily in how I present myself.  And just because I have an appreciation for certain hobbies and pastimes more commonly associated with the majority culture, does not mean that I am ashamed of my race, my culture, or my heritage.   I AM ashamed of people who perpetuate the image that would suggest that I can’t be who I am, fundamentally, and not be considered black.  I am ashamed of a sub-culture that would require that to be considered black, one should have to speak in ebonics, maintain legit "street cred," or hang out with the homies from "da 'hood."  If that was what being black is about, then, yes, I would be ashamed of being black.

But that’s not what being black is to me, and I feel sorry for anyone who thinks it is.

When I think of my heritage, I think of Langston Hughes, and the other black poets of the Harlem Renaissance.  I think of Irwin Holmes, one of the first African American students integrated into North Carolina State University, who earned a degree as an electrical engineer.  I think of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all-black US Air Force unit, who served our country with honors in WWII.  I think of Frederick Douglass, the voice of the abolitionist movement, and the first African American invited to the White House – by Abraham Lincoln, no less – who was not a servant, or a slave.  I think of George Washington Carver, who was born into slavery, but died a noted scientist, a renowned inventor, and a respected educator.  I think of Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcom X, whose accomplishments surely require no explanation.

For me, being black is understanding my heritage well enough to speak intelligently about it, knowing where we’ve come from as a people, what we’ve been through as a people, and what we’ve achieved as a people.  And for that, I am very proud.

I feel most comfortable around people who accept me as who I am.  And those are people who have the most in common with me, and for whom race simply isn’t an issue.  So, the next time a black person asks me if I’m ashamed of being black, I’m going to ask them what they think it means to be black.  And if they can’t give me the right answer, then I’m going to tell them.



( 37 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 28th, 2014 09:25 am (UTC)
Love that closing line!

I really enjoyed this piece, and you might also like reborn_spirit who wrote this week about the blind community in a similar vein.

I grew up in Florida, in an area with perhaps more overt racial prejudice than average. Now I'm in a relationship with a UK citizen of Jamaican descent, and most of his "black" heritage isn't anything like the "black" heritage I grew up with...and assumed to be the universal experience. So it's nice to be educated, and I hope I keep learning.
Apr. 28th, 2014 07:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you, when I seen the topic this immediatly came to my mind, I wasn't sure I could wirte about it, but it is something I felt I needed to say and I am glad if I helped educaute even a little bit.
Apr. 29th, 2014 01:04 pm (UTC)
"For me, being black is understanding my heritage well enough to speak intelligently about it, knowing where we’ve come from as a people, what we’ve been through as a people, and what we’ve achieved as a people. And for that, I am very proud." - a big nod to that! yes I can totally relate to what you are saying here..:)
Apr. 29th, 2014 09:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I was hoping to get the point across that I am proud of my heritage and that I would like others to learn more about that heritage.
Apr. 29th, 2014 01:06 pm (UTC)
Ultimately no one should be ashamed of their ethnicity! But, as we know, racism, prejudice and the hatred that accompanies them have not gone away. You can't even turn on the news without some NBA owner spouting off!

There's still so much learning that has to be done, just about this one issue, that should have been settled in the 19th century, or at least the 20th.

Great take on the prompt!
Apr. 29th, 2014 09:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I wasn't sure I should wirte this piece at first but I felt like I had to get this off my chest.
Apr. 29th, 2014 02:32 pm (UTC)
Well done.
Apr. 29th, 2014 09:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you
Apr. 29th, 2014 05:52 pm (UTC)
I would not only have not guessed that you were black, I also (*koff*) had assumed you were female. Because of the username and that awesome default icon.

I'm glad to see you address this topic from your perspective, because I think yours is one that needs to be heard more often. You are a person first, and how that person is expressed (geek, braniac, compassionate, male, educated, Cajun-aware, etc.) should very much be up to you. It IS you.

Other people's expectations should not be your problem, though I hate to see a black person asking if you're ashamed to be black just (I assume) because you're not embodying stereotypes. I worry more that those people might assume that stereotypes are who THEY should be.

Love the awesome conclusion to this very well-written piece.
Apr. 29th, 2014 09:13 pm (UTC)
The reason I use the minion Icons is a sotry unto itself, thank you for reading my piece. I never thought of it as they assume they should fit those stereo types. I will have to think more on that.
(no subject) - roina_arwen - May. 1st, 2014 01:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mamas_minion - May. 1st, 2014 04:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - halfshellvenus - May. 1st, 2014 05:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mamas_minion - May. 1st, 2014 10:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - halfshellvenus - May. 1st, 2014 11:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - halfshellvenus - May. 1st, 2014 05:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mamas_minion - May. 1st, 2014 10:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - halfshellvenus - May. 1st, 2014 11:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 30th, 2014 12:21 am (UTC)
This is very engaging and informative, and I'm glad you wrote it. My husband and I were discussing the other day how "geek" by default conjures a picture of a white person and how problematic that is. But your perspective is more powerful than either of ours could be on that topic. Well done.
Apr. 30th, 2014 01:32 am (UTC)
Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed it and if it helps to foster discussion that is even better.
Apr. 30th, 2014 01:21 am (UTC)
This was a well-written and thoughtful look at identity and stereotyping. I'm glad you've chosen to be yourself.

Apr. 30th, 2014 01:35 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading my piece, fortunately my mother always allowed me to be myself and encouraged me to be me.
(no subject) - jem0000000 - May. 2nd, 2014 03:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 30th, 2014 02:01 am (UTC)
lj idol recommended reading week 7
User belenen referenced to your post from lj idol recommended reading week 7 saying: [...] * http://mamas-minion.livejournal.com/2501.html [...]
Apr. 30th, 2014 02:30 am (UTC)
This is a wonderful essay! For me, the most important part is the "I don't feel the need" part. Extremely thoughtful and well written.
May. 1st, 2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I am glad you liked the piece.
Apr. 30th, 2014 10:31 pm (UTC)
This was really insightful and I enjoyed reading it. :)
May. 1st, 2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you
May. 1st, 2014 12:01 am (UTC)
Such a comprehensive piece of writing. Nice. I just love the idea of asking someone what exactly they THINK it means to be X, Y, Z!
May. 1st, 2014 03:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I feel if I ask that question it might make them question why they asked me in the first place.
(no subject) - bleodswean - May. 1st, 2014 03:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 1st, 2014 01:46 pm (UTC)
Excellently done, and very valid points!

Like halfshellvenus, I too had no idea you were a black male, and am pleased to get to know the person behind the adorable Minion icons a bit better. :)
May. 1st, 2014 04:17 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it, I wasn't sure I was going to wirte any non fiction, but with the topic I felt I had to.
May. 1st, 2014 03:46 pm (UTC)
This is an awesome and very inspiring look into your life. Thank you for sharing it.
May. 1st, 2014 04:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you
May. 1st, 2014 11:22 pm (UTC)
Wow, so nice to see non-fiction from you for a nice change of pace - so wonderful to "hear" your true "voice," and, as it turns out, I find the character of YOU the most compelling yet. And, you know, it also just so happens that I have a thing for patient, soft-spoken, thoughtful, kind-hearted men of integrity who are slow to anger, and the geek factor is just added sex appeal, in my book. Good for you for being you. Your mother did you a great service. I wish every parent would give their children this solid a foundation to stand on. If I could, I would thank her for you. Thanks for sharing this.
May. 2nd, 2014 01:11 am (UTC)
Thank you, I wasn't sure I was going to do anything non fiction, but with this topic one thing came to mind and I had to speak on it. I wish my mother was alive to read this post I think she would have appreciated.
( 37 comments — Leave a comment )