Defining Blackness — Alanna
It’s hard to define “blackness” — especially when you’re white.
When told to complete this intimidating task, I knew I needed to go talk — and more importantly listen — to black people in the MSU community.
I went to an inner-city high school in Lansing, where 38 percent of students are white, 35 percent are black and 21 percent are Latino. I have friends of all skin colors and pride myself as a person who seeks and accepts all kinds of diversity.
I can never be black.
Nor Asian, nor Hispanic, nor anything but white. I never will face the subtle discrimination minorities face. I always will benefit from what social theorists call “white privilege.”
My race never will draw any special scrutiny or make me susceptible to marginalization. By mere virtue of my whiteness, I am considered “the norm” and there’s nothing I can do about it. Oh well, right?
That doesn’t mean I can’t understand — at least to some degree — the struggles and mindset of nonwhite people in the U.S.
As a post card on the secret-sharing web site PostSecret said, “coming to college has made me extremely aware of my race.”
Being painfully aware of one’s race can be both a positive and negative experience.
For students at MSU’s Black Student Alliance, or BSA, Black History Month meeting it seemed they only could categorize themselves as black, not young, not Americans, not students — just black.
The meeting leaders asked what they could or should invent “as black people.” It was as if these intelligent, outspoken students couldn’t see past their own skin color.
I could not understand the need to qualify everything with “as a black person.” I’ve never once said “as a white person, I must (insert life-saving achievement here).”
It seemed to me “blackness” made them unique, distinct and set them apart from their mostly white professors and peers. Achievements are recognized as being on the behalf of the black community, the slaves of the past, the Civil Rights Movement leaders, those who helped get them to college, their black parents or their black peers.
I am of Irish and German descent with no living grandparents and a relatively small family.
Of course, I love to make my family proud and share my triumphs with them but I’ve never felt as if I’m carrying them on my back.
I was expected to graduate from high school, go to college and live the dream. There’s nothing new about that in my family.
In a country where minorities are afforded the same rights as whites, why are there MSU students attempting to carry the whole black community on their shoulders when I’ve never felt the weight of all whites? It’s not as if one outstanding black achievement finally will lift the veil of race in the U.S.
But it’s not all black and white. Just ask my friend, Emanuele Berry, a journalism junior, whose mother is white and father is black.
She’s been asked to choose her whole life. This country has an obsession with labels; black, white, biracial, male, female, etc. It’s as if we must fit every little piece into our puzzle.
Berry said she used to stubbornly declare herself as biracial but slowly was driven to just say black. It’s easier for people to accept that, she said.
No one asks why she’s so light skinned for a black person and have asked if she’s Nicaraguan twice in the past year. But if she said “white” there would be at least one follow-up inquiry.
It’s possible to be black without being “Black” or “African American.” When it comes to anyone defining “black,” the only way to do that other in terms of melanin is to use stereotypes and assumptions.
Black is much more than an option on standardized forms or a skin color.
Black is a state of mind accepted by many as a marker of identity. Black is a choice made simultaneously by and for individuals.
Alanna Thiede, opinion writer