by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said
As last week’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta” post has played out here and on What Tami Said and Racialicious (where it was crossposted), I have been thinking about what it means to represent the black race and how black people act as ambassadors to the mainstream world. There is this tendency, from which I am not immune, to feel embarrassed by and to make excuses for black folks who behave badly, or rather, act in a way contrary to a certain set of values and accepted norms. There is a real reason for this compulsion: Black people and other people of color are often unfairly judged as group by the mainstream. In other words, the actions of one equal the actions of all. And so, many of us, learn from the time we are children to mind ourselves around white folks–to not do anything that brings discredit to black people and, ideally, to live life with the goal of uplifting the race through our actions. Admittedly, this idea of being a proxy for the entire race has been tied to excellence and achievement–both wonderful things. But, ultimately, this way of thinking is a tyranny and a perpetuation of race bias.
Whose standards are these?
I am the middle-class child of two degreed educators. I grew up in the suburbs in a mixed-race neighborhood. I attended Gifted and Talented classes on Saturdays and academic camps in the summer. My family was a member of Jack & Jill. My mother is a Link. Both parents were involved in black Greek organizations. We had all the markers of a middle, upper-middle-class African American family. I grew up in the Midwest, but my father is the son of Mississippi farmers (grew up during Jim Crow) and my mom is the daughter of a steelworker and housewife, who both immigrated to Indiana’s rust belt from the South. All of these influences made me who I am today, which is a Midwestern, suburban, secular, progressive, married woman. Of course, there are myriad other things that impact who I am and how I believe I should live my life. And so it is with all human beings–we are all the product of many influences, including race, but also class, gender, sexuality, region, age and on and on. So, who will be the judge of acceptable black behavior? Should we judge by the values of my rural, black friends? My urban ones? My gay friends? My straight ones? My Southern friends? My Northern ones? My conservative friends? My liberal ones? My college-educated friends? My high-school educated ones? My religious friends (and is that Christian, Muslim, B’Hai?)? My secular ones? We are not a monolith. That society judges us as one is an example of race bias–a bias we perpetuate and acquiesce to every time we ask a black person to follow a nebulous set of values for the sake of the race. Continue reading