Identity Crisis The American people have a serious identity crisis. Its rare while in the country to hear someone say that they are American. People say that they are Irish, Scottish, German, Italian, African, English, West Indian, etc. Often people are a combination of these. For black Americans it becomes even more complicated.
Many want to identify as African but others would never dream of such a thing because its so foreign to them. I was speaking to a man at a party I had at my apartment. He was telling me about how he plays African drums, traveling around to different towns and performing. He had even been to my part of Cape Cod, Wellfleet. I asked him if he was African and his reply was vague.
He couldnt really say yes but he wasnt about to say no. I thought that maybe he was second generation and that his parents were born there so I asked if his parents were African. He said, “well I cant really say no, you know what I mean. It had come up earlier that I was An Afro-Am major and after that point as far as he was concerned we had some kind of connection. I was glad that it never became my turn at 40 questions. I am BI-racial and people react to that differently than others.
To some its a scar on my blackness being that Im also half-white. To some it aint no thing black is black even if your not 100%. Of course finding a person whose 100% of anything these days can be a challenge. In the states if you are a small part black then you are black. We have this system, thanks to the good old days of slavery where no matter how white you looked and no matter how much you resembled the masters children, you were still black enough to be a slave.
In other parts of the world the tables are turned. If you are even a small percent white then thats what you are. The past thirty years have seen many changes in the lives of black people in America. With the civil rights movement and the black power movement forcing changes in the sixties. My generation lives a different life than most of our parents did and they lived a very different life than their parents.
Many people in my grand parents generation were able to take advantage of the booming steel and auto industry at least in the urban areas. There were certain jobs that blacks were perfect for. Jobs involving hard labor and any kinds of jobs that no one else wants such as cleaning the sewers, slaughtering pigs and other distasteful jobs. Before the 60s blacks were almost solely employed in the domestic areas cooking and cleaning (for women) and in the hard labor fields (for men). With the civil rights movement came a new awareness of the blatant prejudices that Americans held and a realization of how the racism overflowed into everyones social and economic life.
Blacks were underrepresented in every aspect of life. With the passing of the 1954 civil rights act and the demonstrations that followed slowly things began to change. Finally the oh, powerful federal government was setting standards for the way that black people were to be treated, in public and in the work force. Obviously the government cant force peoples minds to change but in the public sector they had a lot of control. Government contracts were used to wheel and deal. Those companies who hired blacks in large numbers received contracts.
Those who didnt tended not to. So now what do we have? We have a large number of African Americans getting jobs that in the past were impossible. Jobs opened in large corporations that offered room to advance up the ladder. At times in order to get hired you had to have a skill but other times you were hired to fill the quota and taught to work as the time went on. Collins speaks about how blacks were hired as a means of control.
If your working your not out on the street protesting. Within a corporation black people may be promoted to manage a large group of blacks that were working. They were often the eyes and ears of those upstairs, and often just a way of keeping the peace to make it one less thing to worry about. A new group emerges out of this mess of government contracts and hiring on site. A group of African Americans who are earning more money than they ever dreamed and with them a prominent middle class.
On the books middle class refers to those people in a certain pay bracket. I think that the idea of middle class changed with the change in the labor field. Blacks were getting closer to white simply by moving into a job force that was not traditionally black. The birth of the black middle class. It is not all-inclusive.
Not every one gets in. You may have whole families but often one person has to start the ball rolling setting off towards the big scary white world that offers opportunity and cash. Black people who make the change from their poor surroundings to those of a career that earns them more money than both their parents make in a year sometimes have trouble adjusting to the success. Katie Cannon felt great shame about her poverty. As a woman preacher who settled in the north the life she leads now is decades from the one she grew up in.
Katie mentions the need to understand the white world she had matriculated towards. She was very uncomfortable to the point of contemplating ending her life. She had no idea how to life in the white world she found herself in. This truly shows how their are almost two worlds living under the disguise of a strong nation. It may as well be another country for all the similarities she found between the white students in her school and those black students from back home.
Adjusting to this New World takes time. One of her colleagues suggested going home five times a year in order to stay in touch with your roots and keep your sanity. Living in an all white environment effects the way you think, feel and act. It can be a totally new life. I think that many middle class blacks find themselves dealing with what I myself deal with.
Being black and white at the same time. I guess I would have the advantage since thats all Ive ever been but many blacks who move into the middle class or even grow up there struggle with how to keep their black identity in tact. In the professional world there is a right and a wrong way to speak, there is a right and wrong way to walk and act. Mo …