In today's society and culture, being an individual is not only essential to your identity and what you portray yourself as, but also knowing who you are and where you fit in. For many minority groups in America, fitting in can be especially difficult because even though the U.S. is a melting pot, minority cultures and languages are often swept under the rug to make room for dominant cultural ideals. Assimilation into mainstream culture can more often than not make an individual feel out of touch with their culture and community. In a fascinating way, Aza Nedhari evaluates oppression in the American culture and complex identity for black males specifically. “The reactionary behaviors and coping mechanisms that manifest from this cultural group may appear incomprehensible to one who is not challenged with an anomalous form of self-awareness defined by a conflicting identity that forces the Black male to view himself through the lens of the dominant culture that does not perceive and does not allow him to function as equal. “ Black males in our society are held up to a certain standard that is somewhat unattainable given that it is based on white male characteristics and paradigms. It almost seems as if black males are unsupported in our cultural, societal and economic system based off the fact that they are seen through the “lens of the dominant culture”.
In the black community, mental health is such a taboo topic that is not often talked about. In this quote by Simone Sneed, she speaks about her experience with mental illness and the emotional tension she had developed from growing up as an outsider. “Health care providers can be insensitive to the cultural experiences of African Americans. There are some health care providers who assume that…strife in black people or having a difficult time are what’s to be expected…in some cases they may normalize what may be a traumatic reaction.” From the history of slavery to today, many African Americans, particularly those who have risen on the socio-economic and professional ladder in the face of institutionalized racism still struggle with feeling the need to always be strong, which results in unhealthy coping mechanisms and internalized feelings of hatred. Belonging in this sense can be hard given that some are so emotionally and socially isolated that they feel as though they can not trust anyone and deal with their problems alone.
With blacks being the subject of racialized discourse that has socially established us as being criminals and unprincipled people, this challenges our right to a legitimate and respectable identity. Having a positive identity can be difficult for blacks in america because of the stigmas and stereotypes that weigh so heavily on how other people see us. This can even more difficult when the media adds on to the negative connotations. Racism Review brings up the topic of the media pandering to white audiences whiling slandering the black community in the process. “When racist media, such as Fox News, use black intellectual mercenaries to pander to white audiences to denounce a cultural practice or particular behavior in African Americans in general, they are, in essence, identifying African Americans as subjects worthy to be oppressed, absolving a racialized society of all blame for their oppressed condition and the reason such behavior has become a normalized practice.” Because of the misrepresentation of the black community on such popular platforms, this only fuels the way people see blacks.
Different aspects in life affect the way people see and recognize the black community, but most of the time that is out of our control. The constant marginalization of our culture, language, hair, skin color, and more can be a burden on our spirits, but they are all important facets of the identities of black people everywhere. In a system we were put into where we cannot prosper may inhibit us, but it will not define us and we will continue to be strong in the face of oppression.
Nedhari, Aza. "In Search of Manhood: The Black Male's Struggle for Identity and Power." Inquiries Journal. N.p., 11 Nov. 2009. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.
Hamm, Nia. "Black Folks and Mental Health: Why Do We Suffer in Silence?" EBONY. N.p., 01 Oct. 2012. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.
"African Americans' Social & Racial Identity Under Attack -." Racism Review. N.p., 01 Apr. 2011. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.
Many Americans don't want to admit it, but I'll say it: segregation is still around. Sometimes by design. And sometimes by choice.
Let me be clear, this isn't the segregation of my parent's era. It's not a legally mandated and enforced system backed by public figures like former Alabama George Wallace, who famously said, "Segregation today. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever," to resounding applause, in 1963. The "whites only" signs have ceased to lurk over water fountains, bathrooms, and restaurant counters.
Yet, 21st-century segregation exists overtly in our school systems, communities, and prisons. It also permeates our society in ways we don't even realize.
We need to continue the conversation about the shocking segregation in our schools and neighborhoods. According to a study last year, 43% of Latinos and 38% of blacks go to schools where less than 10% of their peers are white. But beyond that, we often fail to talk about how segregation impacts us personally. How it permeates not only many of our public and private institutions, but American culture at large. We less easily talk about cultural or social segregation, an area that we have control over, via the restaurants we patronize, the bars we drink at and the places where we worship.
It's time for us to face the reality that for many Americans, even if we live and work around "diversity", our best friends and spiritual leaders, the people we invite into our lives and homes, often look like we do, reinforcing a de facto segregation. This social and cultural segregation isn't restricted to "uneducated" people living in the country. It is equally prominent in environments where smart, educated people are supposed to "know better". People who have studied race, spent months abroad in India or Africa, tasted the best fufu and mofongo, read Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Pablo Neruda, and who may even have black "friends" or lovers, still too often manage to have a community that doesn't reflect diversity in their broader city or nation.
It's understandable that we don't hear much about this type of divide. It's too personal for many, who often don't want to be seen as racist. It's a hard phenomenon to quantify. Talking about the numbers of blacks in jails or in a school system is easier than confessing that the last time you confided in your Latino "friends", Britney Spears was at the top of the charts.
Yet, some data can point us in the right direction – like looking at the number of interracial friendships (15% of whites say they have a lot of friends of different races), and the number of interracial marriages (at 15% as well), and the number of discrimination suits at entertainment venues. But we mainly have to rely on anecdotal information to talk about cultural segregation. Articles on social segregation in cities like Chicago, Washington, DC, Atlanta, and even New York, pepper online message boards, and crop up in the unlikeliest of places. Even New York Times food critic Sam Sifton weighed in on the issue, more honestly than many, stating:
"New Yorkers are accustomed to diversity on sidewalks and subways, in jury pools and in line at the bank. But in our restaurants, as in our churches and nightclubs, life is often more monochromatic."
But just talk doesn't seem to change much.
My knee-jerk reaction is to blame racism and discrimination. To complain about all the times that I've felt odd being the only brown face in the crowd. To get mad about how all the television shows that have casts that look like my family are segregated to the so-called "cable ghettos". To get angry at all the bouncers who say they have a racial quota in hotspots. And to wonder why all the books I like are sitting in a "separate" section … until of course, I realize, I'm guilty of many of the same offenses: I segregate, too.
I think about all the nights I plan out that were based on the racial and ethnic make-up of the crowd I am going out with. If I am hanging with black friends, I likely go to an all-black establishment, where I know my friends will like the music, and the mating potential. If I am hanging out with an all-white crowd, I immediately cross all black locations off the list, not wanting anyone to feel uncomfortable. Instead, I relegate myself to being one of a few blacks in the crowd. If it's going to be a night with mixed company, the venue would be more likely to be up for grabs. But an all-black locale still would probably be out of the question.
This isn't secret intel: many blacks, whites, Latinos, and Asians seem to stick to these same guidelines, too, particularly in New York City, America's supposed great melting pot. There are still two Americas: one for brown people and one for whites, and both are heavily segregated.
If our social worlds were more integrated, perhaps we would see it trickle down to the way we govern and the way we dispense justice. Having some sort of connection, a shared experience is the only way I believe that we can get politicians, police officers, and everyday citizens (see Robert Zimmerman's recent comments) to truly understand race.
It may seem silly to connect major state and federal policies to something as simple as a night on the town, but our experiences are shaped not just by legalese and policy, but also by understanding and interacting with each other. Segregation in the 21st century is not just about being legally and physically separated, but about a cultural separation that still feels like it divides more than it binds.