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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"I'll take my diversity to go."

I've come across a lot of articles (print, online, and blog) that discuss assimilating and how a lot of Black people feel pressured to do so. I found an article on AfroSpear dealing with the topic and I left the comment below.

Well said.

I remember when I was interviewing for jobs and my coworker (a sista) asked me "Don't you think that your hairstyle may be a hinderance?"

I said "If it is, fuck 'em. This is New York City where I see successful Black people with unprocessed hair all over the place. My hair's neat, my appearance is clean and conservative, I'm articulate, I'm personable, I have a bachelor's, I have work experience, and I have no problems doing work and showing up on time to do so. If my braids are too distracting, then fuck 'em."

She laughed at me. Not at what I said (maybe she was laughing at me, LOL) but my delivery was in my usual sass. But yes, she's very much a proponent of assimilation. She even argues that assimilation be extended into choosing first names for kid.

The problem I have with that is what exactly is so defective about Black people that we have to compromise our uniqueness? The idea of validating racism and chauvinism by way of altering my appearance doesn't sit well with me. If the goal is to achieve a diverse work environment, why not hold people to the standards that they're trying to set? There has to be something more satisfying than just seeing us peppered amongst a sea of White people.

At the time that I had that discussion with my coworker, I had cornrows that weren't of the Allen Iverson variety. Normally, I'd pulled the braids into one big braid that laid on my back or I would ball it into a bun. I think that's professional, no? None of my White coworkers gave me weird looks; I got some compliments; thankfully, no one had the nerve to touch my hair; and one White coworker thought my hair grew over night, LOL!

I wear braids because I’m transitioning back into my natural hair texture and because of the very low maintenance. There’s no better feeling in the morning than to just get up and go :-) No way am I tryna go back to the garden variety Make You Wait Hair Salon. There will be a whole lot of kicking and screaming on my end. And besides, the same ingredient that helps unclog your sink is used in relaxers. I think I'll have to pass on that.

With regards to the name argument, I think people have the right to name their child whatever they want. I don’t like that some people challenge those like me for wanting to give my future kids African (e.g., Chioma) or Hebrew (e.g., Malachi) names. So long as the name has a meaning to it, or sounds really pretty, I can appreciate it. Now, there are three arguments that I’ve heard from nay-sayers: 1) “Those (read as “Rejected by White folks”) types of names affect people’s chances at landing a job,” 2) “You’re in America, you’re American-born, so why go for that type of name?”, and 3) "Multisyllabic names are hard to pronounce." I can’t help but sigh.

The first argument is definitely true as I have seen and read studies to substantiate that hinderance claim. What that argument fails to consider is that being a non-White male can also be a hinderance. You don’t know what’s going through the minds of these interviewers. They could be thinking, “I’ve already fulfilled that quota. NEXT!” or they could assume that you fit some negative stereotype.

Another thing that’s overlooked are zip code lookups. Your name could be as mainstream as Bob and Becky, but if you’re coming from an undesirable neighborhood, your resume could have a meeting with the trash bin.

I really hate the second argument about going the American route with names. I mean, what the hell is “American?” No, seriously. What is it? You’ve got members from every part of the globe in this country with unusual (read as “non-English”) and lengthy first and last names but then assimilators wanna suggest that there are American names and that you should give your child such names. Huh? Ummm...I’ve met Americans with first or last names like Levi, Juanita, Renee, Wale, Chan, Ramadan, Kapalski, and Jackson and not one of those names are of American origin yet those people are as American as they come.

The third argument is comical. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an actor turned governor, Shoshanna Lonstein is a fashion designer, yet my short, Nigerian last name stays butchered. Whatever.

Let’s keep it funky since we know what’s the real issue: Americans DON’T like diversity unless it comes in the form of a dish. Oh yes. I said it. Chicken Tikka Masala is sexy, trendy, delicious, and diverse. Now, Parmita the Indian cook, she gets the stink eye cuz she ain’t the type of “diversity” that’s all that appreciated.

Diversity should be about tolerating and/or appreciating someone’s differences. Don’t just pepper me in there tryna kill two birds with one stone. That's insulting and the goal of diversity obviously isn't an honest effort.

Now, on to the million-dollar question: "Should Black people be conducive to White people?" Other people of color are welcome to leave a comment as it may pertain to your experiences.


Macon D said...

Well, I hope non-POCs are welcome to comment too. Great post, and I agree that the white taste for limited diversity that's "not-too-spicy, please!" is infuriating.

I don't think non-whites should have to whiten themselves, though if they want to succeed in white working places, they pretty much do have to, to some degree (assuming their ways aren't middle class already). Whether this is a "whitening" of themselves or a way of making themselves "classier" is for me an open question. Race and class here are entangled, and I'm not sure how to untangle them sometimes.

Anonymiss said...

Oh, yeah. All are welcome to leave a comment.

Now you said: Race and class here are entangled, and I'm not sure how to untangle them sometimes.

And see, that's the problem. Having class and being of a certain class are separate entities. But I guess this to be expected when racial constructs are born out of social stratification.

Assimilation/pandering always leaves me wondering what's the next demand that'll be set. Skin bleaching? I mean, really. That's the only thing that has yet to be demanded. I'd done everything short of that. Even softening my voice and beaming like I was on something so that White people could be comfortable around me. The truth was that I wasn't comfortable around them.

Even when one when is fully assimilated, the Black Tax always comes into play. And that's why assimilation/pandering is a useless method IMO. With assimilation, you're ultimately looking to be respected for what you're not.

Anonymiss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SEPL said...

These judgements do come along in the sneakiest ways- ie, the zip code and name on resumes. But I think a lot of fear of these situations could be based on rumors perepetuated by a couple of studies, and I just have a naive faith that some employers changed their habits after noticing them. And even if there was a system in which names weren't on resumes (in a dreamland somewhere), I wouldn't want to work for an employer who wouldn't have hired me if he/she saw my actual name. I do think about this when sending out resume since my Indian name is for some reason unpronouncable to most Americans, even though it's only 4 letters. But, then again, I've been hired by a magazine made for young white actors in Los Angeles, and this was the whitest environment I ever worked in, and the magazine doesn't exactly cater to any minority.

Anywho, one thing about food: it is also used as a way to judge others considering our body-centric society. On my blog I wrote about how ethnic food staples such as white rice, noodles, beans and other carbohydrates are frowned upon now that so many Americans follow the low-carb mindset. So yes, people love diversity in their food, but these standards of fitness that are imposed on everybody are even more difficult to acheive for someone raised on daal and rice (people like me, for example!). Anywho, check it out:


Anonymiss said...

I'd already read that piece on your blog and I really like it.

These rumors started through "studies" and limited interactions are exactly the problem with employment practices. I haven't trusted a study in a very long time cuz a lot of them have holes in them.

And you bring up a good point about judgments being made through food and diet cuz Dr. Atkins started a real cult-like movement. Some people who follow strict diets can be really annoying, LOL!

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

yum mmmmmmmy

Renee said...

I so agree with your concept of diversity. I have dread locks down to the middle of my back and somehow they are considered an "extreme" hairstyle. It is just ignorance on the part of white people and internalization on the part of blacks that keeps "natural" hairstyles in the fringe category.

Anonymiss said...

Yes. No matter how diversity training is conducted in workplaces, it's a truly feared concept that will never realize. And what is this fear born out of? A loss of the status quo?

The one argument that I really hate that's made by some White people who condone hairstyle restrictions is "Well, I can't come to work with a mohawk so get over it." WTF?! A mohawk is a manipulated hairstyle. An afro and/or locs is your hair texture and length in its natural state. Apples and oranges.

Aabaakawad said...

I had to look up the word conducive.