I believe that at some point in their lives, the average black person in America has been in a situation where they were forced to ask themselves the question:
"Would I be in this situation if I were white?"
After reading The Wake in April, I had a newfound perspective on how the biases of the storyteller sometimes influence how the story is told.
When hearing a story for the first time, the facts of the story are just as important as the identity of the story teller:
- Who's telling the story?
- How will history remember the storyteller?
- Does the storyteller have any motivations for distorting the truth?
- Does the storyteller have any biases?
Blackass tells the story of Furo Wariboko: a black Nigerian man who wakes up one morning with red hair, freckles, and white skin. He woke up a white man.
A satire, Blackass explores Furo's newfound identity through a series of adventures.
His black skin gone, the book chronicles Furo's experiences as a white man making his way in modern day Nigeria: a job he probably wouldn't have gotten as a black man was all of a sudden his, with all of the perks and a huge pay raise.
Women start to notice him. People began showing him respect... being white really starts to work out for Furo.
With the opportunity of a lifetime in his hand, and his dreams all of a sudden coming to reality, he realizes that in order to protect his new life he's going to have to part ways with his old.
Furo cuts off relationships with friends and family, and even changes his name to the appropriate, Frank Whyte (insert Biggie Smalls joke here).
Inspired by Kafka's literary classic The Metamorphosis, the underlying story is the identity crisis many people of color have to deal with today: how to balance cultural expectations with racial identities.
By the end of the novel, the reader is forced to ask themselves the question, If I were in similar circumstances, would I have madE the same choice?
Furo's existential battle: "What does it mean to be me?"
What Blackass did a good job of was addressing the stereotypes that most of us share about one another, but most importantly about ourselves.
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you did (or didn't) do something based on a stereotype you had?
Maybe you didn't dance at a wedding because white people aren't good dancers. Or your co-workers asked you to explain complex immigration issues because you're Latino, and obviously an expert.
The thing about stereotypes though, is that they're mostly bullshit. Let me explain.
Human nature has stated that in order to process information, our brains require a "frame of reference," or, a concept:
Concept - Mental grouping of similar objects, people, ideas, or events.
Why do humans like to group objects, peoples, ideas, and events? Because it's easy!
Our brains process a lot of information every day: sights, sounds, emotions, experiences; it uses concepts to quickly recall information.
Which may or may not mean that we stereotype because its easy.
Our brains are lazy. They want to make quick decisions based on the information it remembers.
The problem though, is that the more times you hear a piece of information, the more you start to believe its true (regardless of how truthful it actually is).
Check out the video below to learn more about Stereotype Threat, which basically explains how stereotypes are self-fulfilling in nature.
Balancing Cultural & Racial Identity
From the Civil Rights movements of the 50's and 60's to the Black Lives Matter movement of today, the American Black Experience has forced the country to re-examine the concept of what it means to be black.
Was Furo black because he could speak pidgin? Or was he a white man one of the new perks of his job was a private driver?
Stereotyping too much, Barrett argues, blurs the lines between fact and faction; self and personification.
"A situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group."
Now, I wouldn't make the argument that stereotypes aren't rooted in some sort of truth: black people do happen to be awesome at stuff like dancing, singing, and playing sports.
But I'd argue that those success stories are far and in between, the perfect storm of natural talents, hard work, and a little bit of luck.
Its important to remember that the black stars of the world: the Lebrons, the Denzel's, the J.Coles - they only represent a small proportion of the actual community.
My point is not to downplay the accomplishments of our most extraordinary, but to remind everyone that our stars are normal people that happened to be really good at something, not because they were black, but because they worked for it.
They believed in themselves.
In Blackass, Furo is forced to ask himself the existential questions: "Does other people's definition of me define me? How do I define me?"
I don't anticipate stereotypes going away any time soon, but what the important lesson to be learned is that other people's definition of you doesn't define you. You define you.
What about you?
So similarly to Furo, what stereotypes about yourself are holding you back?