I decided at seven that I wanted to play guitar and go to UCLA. So reading this article this morning broke my hear a little. I posted it on my personal Facebook page without any comment, but then a friend commented about being troubled by the poet’s statement “that being black at UCLA left him feeling ‘isolated and uncomfortable’.” My friend asked, “Is society’s message in the 21st century still, “stick to your own kind”?”
It got me thinking and so I thought I’d paraphrase my reply to him here.
I’d guess that message has diminished a little bit in the 21st century, but clearly not completely. I grew up in a very homogenous town of which I was one of a small percentage of African-Americans, and even though there was not an overarching “stick to your own kind” message, I still felt extraordinarily isolated and uncomfortable at times. If you’re the only cherry tomato in a salad of mixed greens, bell peppers, mushrooms, and shredded cheese, you’re still going to stand out. Being one of 48 out of 5700 probably feels that way whatever the rhetoric of inclusion. What’s ironic about this whole thing for me is that as a UCLA freshman back in the day, I had my first experience of feeling included in a “black community.” Later, as I’ve written about a lot, I also felt the same sense of alienation at times within that community. The truth is it’s still really hard to find a diverse community where one cultural norm doesn’t dominate (racial, religious, ideological, etc.). That’s why affirmative action is still something we need as a society, one that includes all factors, not just “race neutral” because race still is not neutral and may never be. (Nor are many of these other factors neutral, but race is one of the most instantly codified.) But that doesn’t mean we can’t all be part of a delicious salad!
Take a look at the video and read the Huffington Post article below. (And yes, I do sort of love that my doppelgänger is the only kid to start off not wearing a Bruin shirt. Ha!)
My friend has a “Black, Like My President” mug.
From it, she drinks tea with milk.
Mixed Roots is Saturday…
I read last night for Susan Hayden’s Library Girl series in Santa Monica. Beautiful time, though my piece scared me. I had a couple safe ones in my back pocket. But luckily she asked me to sing a song to start the night. With that, I figured I could engender some good will before getting into the nakedness of a new body centered essay. This one was more gender oriented than about race. But the interesting thing to explore is that like women, people of color – and perhaps especially people of ambiguous racial phenotypes – are consistently the subject of physical scrutiny. Body discussions are always difficult, but exploring sexuality, acutely aware of the male power dynamic, is one of the toughest areas for me. (I typically throw in a couple references to lighten up the subject, but you’ll have to read my published work or come to a performance to know exactly what I mean. I’m feeling reserved in my online presence.) The piece seemed to go down well, which pleased me. And connecting with old friend, Dan Navarro, and new friend, Julie Christensen, was a truly grounding experience.
I’ve got a couple more readings for my essay from the Black Body coming up in June. June 12 I’ll be featured at the Mixed Roots Film and Literary Festival. Last year I got to close the festival musically. This year I wanted to try something different, so I applied as a writer. And on June 23rd, I’m going to be part of the prestigious [ALOUD] series at the Central Library downtown.