I have a confession to make: I think I’ve been an assimilationist for almost my entire life. Until now, that is.
Assimilation has been such a big part of my life that I can think back to specific examples of a young Joy, getting upset at her family for using slang, for not enunciating words “properly.” Even in my youngest years, long before I met or went to live with my White family, when I was being raised by my Chicana and Black families, I knew that if I wanted to move-up in the world, I would need to fit in with White culture. And I judged anyone else from my background who wasn’t willing to do the same. That is my sad confession.
So what does this have to do with “How to be an Antiracist”? Two parts: in the foreword, Dr. Kendi describes his own experiences of being racist as a young man, looking down on Black people not willing to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Later, in Chapter 2, Kendi discusses how various policies in the mid to late 1900’s pitted Black people against each other, and how his own family was impacted by the messaging that Black people needed to assimilate to White culture.
This pitting of people against each other reminds me a lot of what’s going on in our country right now with the intersection of racism and xenophobia. In America was have immigrants who are both racist and opposed to pro-immigration policies. We have Chicano or LatinX people of color who participate in anti-Black racism. I can’t help but think about my own experiences in trying to “rise above my upbringing” and how this has led to my complacency. I feel parallels between my efforts to assimilate to White culture and Kendi’s own perspective:
“In Du Bois’s Black body, in my parents’ Black bodies, in my young Black body, this double desire, this dueling consciousness, yielded an inner strife between Black pride and a yearning to be White. My own assimilationist ideas stopped me from noticing the racist policies really getting high during Reagan’s drug war.” – Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
Whiteness isn’t just a race. It is a culture. That is partly how White spaces are defined: a place where only White culture or race is accepted. For those of us from multicultural/multiethnic/multiracial backgrounds, at a certain point we have to ask ourselves: are we succumbing to the pressure to assimilate to White culture? I know that I have. Every day, as a woman in STEM from a “non-traditional” background, I know that if I want to be taken seriously I need to talk a certain way, look a certain way, and dress a certain way. I need to present in a very specific way in order to achieve my life and career goals. Or at least, this is what I’ve been convinced of.
So where do we go from here? What’s the remedy? Antiracism. As Kendi writes,
“To be antiracist is to conquer the assimilationist consciousness and the segregationist consciousness. The White body no longer presents itself as the American body; the Black body no longer strives to be the American body, knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, radicalized by power.”
We need to overthrow our idea of what is acceptable culture. We need to think about the messaging that we send in White spaces. This is what building diversity into our workplaces, schools, communities, households, minds, and hearts is supposed to look like.
Thank you for coming along for my Day 2 ramblings. Another 3179 feet down, only 24619 vertical feet to go.