Do White Americans Call Themselves British? A Response To Enhancing Self-Acceptance.
My grandfather Clinton Clarence Collins, Sr. lived in the almost third-world poverty of Jim Crow Mississippi as a youth. Most of his childhood he didn't own a pair of shoes and he didn't know his first name until he lied about his age to join the Army; around the community, he was simply referred to as "Boy." However, he rose from the ashes of those beginnings to become a hero of World War II, a scholar, a politician, a teacher and a father of three college-educated black teachers.
In Toki Wright's essay Enhancing Self-Acceptance (here), which is about Semptember 17th's Buju Banton concert at First Ave., he writes "I am a member of the African Diaspora as well as a Minnesotan." In that regard, I have an identity similar to Toki's however I still have a fundamentally different story and perspective.
My father Clinton Clarence Collins, Jr. grew up predominantly in Denver, Colorado and through his scholarly exploits became the first Black American from Denver to go to Harvard. From there he attended and graduated from the University of Michigan law school (where I was born). During this time he married and conceived a child with a farm-raised blind White American woman, Beverly Jean Collins… This child being myself.
Although born in Ann Arbor, Michigan I moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota at the age of 2. My father, although attaining some political success, never enjoyed a great deal of financial success. To add, my parents' marriage was plagued with separations and they finally divorced when I was about 10. Like 60% percent of Americans, I was raised in a broken home. Due to this, I can state I grew up an average middle-class urban citizen.
Back to Toki's Enhancing Self-Acceptance. He states "When asking, where all the Kenyans were at a loud pocket of response came from one part of the room. The same for Ghanaians, Jamaicans, etc. When it came time to make noise for Minneapolis there was a pitiful response. What that response said to me again was that the preservation of a culture in the state of Minnesota was not a priority or it was not wanted." I believe this is simple, most Black Minnesotans are first generation meaning they are the first of their family to live here. Coupled with the stat that only 3% of Minnesotans are black, the majority of whom are Somali or from other large metropolitan cities. Buju Banton, while great music, is not traditional or mainstream American music.
Which brings me to my final point. Many Black Americans resent our country for good reason after events such as diaspora, slavery, Jim Crow, the Tuskegee Airmen incident, the poor response to the crack epidemic, police brutality, racial profiling, and most recently the horrible events following Hurricane Katrina. Who would want to claim a country that had politically and socially showed disdain and disrespect to them time and time again? But the fact of the matter is, it is OUR country. If you are an American with a similar background to me whereas my roots are traced directly back to slavery, (with my great grandfather being born a slave) your culture and familial identity is made up mainly by American experiences.
Yes, our past is full of struggle and sorrows, but it is not as if we don't have something to be proud of and to draw upon for strength in unity. Black Americans have made more leaps and bounds socially and economically than any other racial group in America. We've had amazing leaders in the likes of Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. We've had artisans, entrepreneurs, musicians, politicians, athletes, models, actors and philosophers.
Both my grandfather and my father always said "do not blame the white man." As I've grown older, I understand why. Hitler blamed Jews, the Klan blamed Blacks, Saddam Hussein blamed the Kurds… Hate-mongering only generates more hate, more problems, and ultimately weakens the blamers' making them subject to that hate.
Before my grandfather died, I asked him and my father what I was ethnically and culturally. Their response…? American. Even more specifically, "the future of America." So why not make our allegiances and decisions based on the truly American ideal of Common Sense and channel our emotions of anger from injustice into the reaffirmament of Black American capability, talent, and legitimacy?
I understand this view is not popular and not comforting to those who'd rather practice escapism over realism. But the world is not an cushy place, despite what our American luxuries make it seem to be. What my Jr. High homeroom teacher said about studying can steadily be applied to our collective thought, "Sometimes the difference between good work and bad work can be affected by the chair you're sitting in. Are you going to want study laying back on a couch?" In conclusion, who would deny wisdom comes from struggle? Who would deny knowledge of self comes from struggle with self?
Monday, October 03, 2005
"Who We Are" - A free verse poem.
We are called the beautiful ones
Is it because of that we aren't "real?"
We are called on to have multiple identities
Is that why we always second-guess ourselves?
We have suffered for our blood
Though we're never given credit for the pain
We're the ones who are seen but not heard
Even though we are the first of the future
Why does mother America weep?
Because her children do not know themselves
They never listen to her, we children of Cain
The only ones who could ever perverse a King's dream
"Maternity" - A free verse poem.
We dwell in the womb
And some days are better than others
Our existence is dark and confusing
And constantly we are self-exploring
We do not even know why
When we suffer
And we cry out for our father
He uses his voice and motions to soothe us
But how much can he really do,
When we consume our mother from within?
Everyday he's there
And he attends to our mother
Though they both love us deeply
It is us who must choose
When we will be born
And if we'll be ready.