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Life is never that simple for anyone. We all face challenges and setbacks in life. Even if one was the most privileged person in the world, there are those moments when one has to deal with problems and setbacks of life. Whether I am a man or woman, White or Black, Pilipino or Mexican, mentally challenged or physically different, challenges and problems are inevitable. We all have our own chunk of difficulties to deal with. What makes the difference is one's ability to face these realities in life. A woman might just be as successful as a man, a Black man as White, and so is a disabled man to one who is not. Our identity might present different challenges in life, but with strong ability they can be overcome.
The purpose of this paper is to look at myself from a completely different identity, giving special attention to the challenges of my new identity. In this case I have chosen to take up a Black American identity, though my real identity is White. This paper will also be looking at some of the limitations and freedoms of Black Americans and some of the successful Black Americans. Also discussed in this paper is how I see myself as Black American. The last part is the conclusion of what has been discussed.
What is it like to be Black in America?
My feeling is that to be black is something nice, except for the dominant social prejudice and discrimination. Race does not really stop anyone from succeeding in life, and there are so many blacks who have made it in life. Actually when I look at a black person I see strength, perseverance and a hard working individual. The color of our skin, race or ethnicity does not really make our visionary blurry. Africans, just like Caucasians or any other race, have what it takes to succeed in life. The artistic moment in the American history by Black musicians has actually been the show that being African is not at all a bad thing. It is a beautiful experience to be Black and one can always take pride in it.
Despite of this beautiful experience, though, there are several challenges (historical, social, economical and political) that black people face in America. Whether they are aware of it or not, black people are constantly reminded that they are black in their everyday life. Just to mention a few examples, African Americans are generally looked at as a reflection of long experiences of slavery and segregation (Lucas 1-292). It is in fact shocking that 145 years after the United States banned slavery and racial segregations; African Americans are still bombarded with the experiences of slavery. The words 'descendants of slaves,' for instance, were coined to deny African Americans the dignity they deserve and deny them the same status as the social majority. In some States, Whites still literally treat Blacks as less human and objects to be traded. It is indeed rude, offensive and derogatory in the modern world to look at African Americans as a reflection of long experiences of slavery. It is in this regard that I see being Black as a challenged life in the U.S.
Secondly, there are a lot of negative stereotypical biases, prejudices and irrational attitudes towards Black Americans. The White community, particularly, still hold the bias opinion of African Americans by assuming the worst of them. A good example of irrational stereotyping against Blacks is 'racial profiling.' It is a racially biased policing used by the law enforcement agencies to target certain minority groups, especially African Americans and the Muslim world, by assuming the worst of them and then proceeding to apply that bias approach in their everyday life. This is the unfortunate circumstance that most black people face in the U.S. The law enforcement agencies have generally associated African Americans with criminal activities and all sorts of wrongdoings. Hardly is there a Black person who drives or uses a bus or plane for transport who has not had the experiences of racial profiling. Africans are literally stopped or pulled over and harassed and intimidated to prove that they are not involved in any criminal activity without any reasonable suspicion (USA TODAY A.14).
This is an experience I heard from a friend early this year. As they were walking out of a local mall after a day of celebration, they bumped into a tragic crime scene where a man had been beaten up. Just the moment the police spotted them they were ordered to turn around and lift their hands up. What followed were a series of questions with the intention of associating them with the assault. This kind of experience and many others are part and parcel of the daily life of every black American. The unnecessarily long questions by the authority, police harassment, additional screening when boarding planes and entering malls and constant suspects of crimes is the daily life of black people in America. These accusations and aggressions towards African Americans is obviously frustrating. A time one wishes he wasn't black, perhaps to avoid racial violence (.Gabbidon & Greene 191). Racial profiling is, however, not just limited to the justice system. There are greater attempts by the White community to exclude them from the American economic institutions. Despite of the efforts and strides that have been made to outlaw employment discrimination, most African Americans are still excluded from employment opportunities in both the government and private sectors (Hennessey & Kleiner 8-12).
Thirdly, the negative stereotyping of black Americans is also reflected in the 'one drop rule'. Sometimes it is called the 'one black ancestor rule.' It is a prejudice based on the idea that any trace of 'black' ancestry or the slightest blood contact makes one black. This rule is mainly reflected in the case of 'invisible blackness,' where children from mixed parents are accorded the 'socially' lower status - Black. It is a perception obviously viewed in the negative light. The social majority have painted blacks as a disadvantaged group. Apart from this 'one-drop rule' there are also other discriminatory laws that have been encouraged by the authorities against blacks. Think, for instance, of the mass racial violence of lynching in the 1900s against African Americans. From lynching it went to bus segregation and then to political exclusion. In many ways, authorities have also hindered blacks from economic opportunities and penetrating the private sector (Alexander 75-88).
Fourthly, for whatever reasons, black people are accorded the status of the subordinate group. They are thought of being less intelligent and inferior to the white community. No matter how much a black person is educated or well-placed, the tag 'descendant of a slave' will always be there. This is an impression that has been created by the dominant population (especially American Caucasians). With this ancestral fraction, some black people forcefully associate themselves with the mixture of whites and blacks not to be considered direct descendants of slaves. Others completely cut off ties with the black ancestry to prevent racially motivated attacks on blacks (Branscombe 135-149). Generally, there is an effort by the White community to keep Blacks in a subordinate status by locking them out from the American social, economical and political life. In most states, whites still ensure they do not stay in the same geographical location with blacks. This is a culture that began during the era of slavery when African slaves were forced to live in the rural areas while the Whites occupied towns and superb areas. Racial segregation and the purported white supremacy are the major factors behind reducing African Americans to a subordinate group. All the same, assuming African identity in this kind of environment is indeed a challenged life.
The benchmark is that as much as a black person may love America, he is constantly reminded that he is black. And the reminder is never pleasant at all. Whenever there are crime scenes, the police would first throw accusations at the blacks and try to force them to admit that they are involved (Alexander 54). The harassment and intimidation of Blacks sometimes literally take the form of physical abuse. There is generally an attempt by the whites to wage a hostile war against African Americans, wanting to exclude, disgrace, and strip them of fundamental human dignity. Although racism, segregation, discrimination and police profiling is no longer carried out openly, these systems are still alive and very systematic and institutional. African Americans are silently regarded as less intelligent than the Caucasian Americans and are still considered unfit to hold influential positions and penetrate the lucrative sectors. For instance, most African Americans are still not able to vie for certain political seats in some states and are still not generally at the helm of most companies. Even more worrying are the social and structural inequalities, which are aimed at maintaining the colonial status quo while denying Africans the same status. Indeed being Black in the United States is a real challenge.
Limitations and freedoms of Black Americans
Even though Black Americans have advanced greatly politically and economically, they still lag behind in many other areas. There are great strides in education, but generally African Americans still lag behind in overall education perhaps because of the long experiences of education segregation (Albert 87-92). Again, economically, Blacks still suffer historical marginalization (Alexander 75-88). It is also true that there are discriminations against African Americans when it comes to white-collar occupations (Smith & Arthur 265). They are generally underrepresented in government and other economic areas. But perhaps the worst form of discrimination in employment against the blacks is in the saying, "last hired, first fired." It is this phrase that has been used to lay-off African Americans during economic hardships. This gives one the impression that Africans are never safe in their jobs. They are also the major victims of institutional racism, and many of them cannot still access adequate facilities (Alexander 107-115). Of course one may argue that there is freedom of expression and movement in America, but that is something that is majorly theoretical. African Americans are constant victims of police profiling, harassment and substance abuse. The media coverage is also still biased against blacks. They present a lot of distorted news about African Americans (Rome 1-101). All in all, Black Americans still suffer the limitations of the long legacy of slavery, racial discrimination and prejudice. But with the American dream of equal opportunities, they do have the freedom to create the future they want. And remember, the African American music like hip hop, rock and blues are the most loved and popular music in America.
Are there successful Black Americans?
Yes, there are many Black Americans who have succeeded in their personal and professional life. Think about President Barrack Obama, socially tagged as the 'descendant of a slave', rising from a humble background to become at the helm of the American politics. One can also talk about Oprah Winfrey, who has consistently featured in the list of 'wealthiest Americans' (Jet 37). She found a way to overcome her life misfortunes. Many other names can be slotted in, like Tyler Perry (who owns filming studios), Bob Johnson (who has previously been listed by Forbes), Dr. Daniel Hale Williams (the first doctor to successfully perform 'open heart surgery') and Martin Luther King, Jr. (political legacy).
How do I see myself as Black American?
Obviously the feeling of taking up black American identity comes with mixed reactions. From one end it really feels good in the sense that I try to put myself in the shoes of many great African Americans, like President Obama and Oprah Winfrey, and trying to see myself succeed in life regardless of the social challenges. I also admire the African American music (hip hop, blues and rock among others). With the black identity, I will have something to associate myself with and to be proud of. I also love a lot more of other black American cultures, especially their social life. But on the other end, taking up Black American identity comes with its own burdens. I will have to deal with the negative stereotyping and social prejudice against African Americans. I will also have to learn to deal with police profiling, harassment and racial discrimination. Nevertheless, I realize that life is what one takes it to be. Whether I am black or white, there are challenges, setbacks and problems that I have to face in my daily life, and the ability to face them is what makes me stand-out from the rest.
Life is a channel and process that presents its own challenges, problems and setbacks. There is never life that can be described as 'that simple'. I may have the privileges of being born in an economically wealthy family or the misfortune of coming from a humble background, but there are challenges that I have to face in either life. As much as the sight of being black may scare me, there are a lot more things that I admire about black Americans. Well, I may suffer from the legacy of racial prejudice and social discrimination, but I will have the pleasure to associate myself with the black American culture especially their music and social life. Racism is a culture that is systematic and institutional in the United States. Unless there are structural and social reformations, and unless Black Americans are accorded equal opportunities as the rest of other groups in the United States, being Black will continue to be a challenged life. Despite of these challenges, however, life is what one makes it to be. Our ability to face the challenges and setbacks is what makes the difference in life.