Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why You Mad?

Shout out to Darth Whitey for passing along this very interesting article.

If you check out the link, the article discusses a medical school student in New Jersey who is suing the school for discrimination. The interesting thing about the story is that the student is a white guy, who because of where he was born, also identifies himself as African American. So, he's a "white, African-American."

Apparently, the student identified himself as such during some sort of seminar and all hell broke loose at his school. His fellow black classmates took umbrage as his self-identification, and pretty soon school officials were asking him to "lay low" until the heat cooled off. The student didn't really take the advice, things snowballed and the student got suspended from school for at least a year.

Now, he wants to get paid.

What is fascinating about the story is how clearly it demonstrates the fact that all racial designations are man-made creations that poorly define other human beings. I mean, technically, this cat IS African-American. And he's also white, and of Portuguese descent. The problem is that in America, African-American doesn't really have anything to do with where you were born, but it has everything to do with whether you tan at the beach.

Honestly, I was never a big fan of the term "African-American." I mean, Africa isn't a country, it's a continent. I'd rather just be called black, since I really don't know what part of Africa I'm from and identifying with an entire continent seems to be a stretch. It ignores the diversity of Africa and the cultures within its many countries.

I also think it's funny that when blacks, browns and yellows get hyphenated citizenship their monikers are incredibly vague and ridiculous, while whites get to be German-Americans, Italian Americans and Irish Americans. I know that some brown people and yellow people also have more specific designations, like Korean-American or Cuban-American, but their vague designations, like Asian or Latino, are used much more frequently. And black people don't have an option unless you are a recent immigrant from another country.

This reality is a legacy of slavery and the success slave owners had in eradicating most ties that black people had to their home countries. It wasn't an accident, it was a calculated move to isolate and indoctrinate black folks so they would be more docile servants. It's just one more problem to add to the pile.

The thing is, because black folks lack real information about where our ancestors were from and the cultures they had, we tend to be over-protective of anything we can now claim as our own, including stupid, vague names. I'm sure that some of the black folks who opposed this medical student's decision to label himself as "African-American" were thinking "Damn, now the white man gonna take that too?" It's an understandable, albeit unnecessary reaction under the circumstances.

See, while the white student may not have been totally innocent in his thought process--I actually think he was trying to prove a point about how we don't need to worry about race anymore--he was well within his rights, and he was perfectly accurate in his description. This is a prime example of black folks trying to force other people to think they way we think, even though we would hate it if someone did the same thing to us.

The truth is, it doesn't hurt anybody if this white guy wants to be labeled African-American. After all, he also wanted to labeled "white" so it was clear he wasn't trying to claim that he had some special insight into the black experience in America. Whether he was trying to prove a point or not, his desire to adopt the African American label didn't truly hurt anybody. It might confuse some folks, but hey, people are always going to be confused.

See, this is the type of battle I like to avoid. I would have seen immediately that this cat was doing something for attention, and then determined whether I wanted to grant him that attention. What I would not have done was become so upset, so bothered by his refusal to drop the moniker of African-American that I decided to retaliate against him. That crosses a line.

People in this country, people of all hues, have a problem accepting dissenting opinions. We have a problem with allowing people to live their lives in a manner we disagree with. Sure, there are certain actions that cannot be tolerated, but most of the time we're fighting over things that are simply a matter of preference. This student wants to be called African-American, technically he qualifies as African-American, so call him what he wants.

What's it to you?



Darth Whitey said...

Very insightful commentary.

This whole thing reminded me of that incident where a teacher or professor was fired for using the word niggardly. A black student went insane and one thing led to another, and boom, fired. feh.

I've worked with South Africans before, white ones, Afrikaans speakers. If they moved to the US and had kids here the kids would be Afrikaan Americans, harhar :-)

Thordaddy said...

lil' man,

You seem to be unable to decide whether you want an identity or not? Do you want to be perceived by others for anything noticeable other than your liberalism?

Do we create our own identities or do others create them for us?

Why would blacks get mad at a dude that defined himself by parroting the definition that others made for him?

The teacher's question necessitated his answer... The only answer... And "look" at the reaction... Behavior Modification courtesy of the public integrationists who practice private segregation.

You a part of that crowd, lil' man?

Darth Whitey said...

Thor, I think Big Man was quite clear about his dislike for the African American label.

Max Reddick said...

Speaks to the rigidity of those categories. Step outside the box and quickly people rush to order you back in.

Imhotep said...

A white African-american american, really? He's white, no dispute there.

We know why Black americans identify with a continent, but it's unclear to me why Paulo Serodio, who was born and raised in Mozambique, and whose family have been there for three generations, would not self identify as a Mozambican. Seems to me if Paulo is going to claim america, his country of 10 years, then he should also claim Mozambique his home country of 35 years.

If Paulo wanted to come correct, instead of trying to obfuscate the facts, he would have identified himself as a white Mozambican-american.

Darth Whitey said...

Mozambique's flag has a AK-47 on it. heh.

@imhotep: well if he has to be that specific, why not ask Arabic Egyptian-Americans to identify themselves as such then? Or what about a naturalized immigrant from Nigeria, does he have to identify himself as black Nigerian-American?

I think what bothers people here is the guy's motive. Folks think he's mocking them or something. Truth is we don't know with what sort of attitude he identifies himself as AfAm with.

Imhotep said...

Darth, A person identifying them self as Arabic Egyptian, or Black Nigerian american, well, is redudant. The vast majority of Egyptians are arabic. When we think of Nigerians, we don't envision a white person.

I see you chose examples that are country specific though both countries are on the African continent. Whereas Paulo ignores his home country and plaster himself all over the continent.

You're correct, I don't know Paulo's motives, but I'm suspicious. Why would he not identify with the country of his birth? The whole point of the hyphenated name is to identify with your COUNTRY of origin or that of your parents or your ancestors.

One of my issues with Paulo is his inconsistency; he's specific about his race (white), his new home (America) but fails to recognize his birth home, Mozambique. Seems like he's trying to bend over backwards to prove a point.

Darth Whitey said...

@imhotep: I think you nailed it, broke it down to the bare bones. Kudos! I agree.

Hot Girl Extraordinaire said...

I read this article, and thought who cares if he wants to be AA. He's obviously seeking attention. The comments on the article were way more entertaining. It's seems that Mr White AA was an all-around DB who tried to blame his suspension on small incident. FYI:

"This article is extremely one sided. As a student at New Jersey Medical School and a former classmate of Paulo Serodio, I witnessed the numerous incidents that culminated in Paulo's suspension. The disciplinary action was widely supported by the student body because of Paulo's overt racism and blatant disregard for the viewpoints and feelings of others. The suspension had nothing to do with Paulo identifying himself as an African American, but rather was based on repeated, offensive comments he made in public forums of the NJMS community.Paolo published an article in the NJMS Plexus (school newpaper) belittling the significance of African American history and slavery. In addition, he wrote that most blacks had no right calling themselves African Americans, as they have never been to Africa, and posited that only people like himself were worthy of the label African-American. Fellow students were understandably incensed at being told how to identify themselves, and numerous rebuttals followed. Furthermore, he went on to make racist and sexist jokes in scribe notes (notes taken for the entire class during lectures) as well as emails, further belittling black culture. As a means of responding to his critics, one memorable public email referred to the course director as "Ms. Piggy" and referenced a "lynch mob" being after him. The obvious parallel to public lynchings of blacks in times past did not go unnoticed.

"A lot of you are commenting soley based on the news article. Just as there are two sides of a coins, there is another side to this story as well. I will reaffirm what my classmates said in this forum. The students were NOT offended that he called himself AA, but rather offended at the fact that he stated that NO other black student had the right to call themselves AA. He was arrogant in the way he said it as well. In addition, he did not leave the issue at the classroom table, rather he published an insulting article in the school newspaper, which caused several students to publish a counter article. This further caused his to get angry and he started to further insult students. People actually started to ignore this, writing him off as ignorant. However, what tipped the boat is probably is the email he sent out making a reference to "lynching" and also he deragatory jokes he made in the noted against WOMEN, in general (white, black, blue, green, etc etc). His notes had OBSCENE pictures of pregnant women and breasts. Yes, we have seen breasts and ####'s before, but the key here is that they were OBSCENE. The truth will come out, and people will clearly see who is at fault. The administration isnt issuing any statements because they CAN'T. They have to protect PAULO as well, because I THINK HE IS STILL A STUDENT THERE!! what a double edged sword."

Big Man said...


Damn dude, good point. I completely missed that angle. He knows where he is from, so his decision to go with the very general "African American" just verifies my earlier assumption that he was trying to start some mess.

Thanks for pointing that out, I totally missed it.

Big Man said...

Hot Girl

Thanks for adding those comments from the article. I didn't even bother to read the comments because I was certain it would just turn into a round of racist mudslinging. Turns out this was one time I should have waded in.

Thordaddy said...

Here again we see liberals acquiring for themselves what others aren't privy to?

Can people self-create and self-identify or not?

This is the liberal way and now that someone has self-identified and self-created his own "identity," faux-liberals are up in arms because someone did and said what they don't approve of.

Phony a-- liberals!

Darth Whitey said...

I think Thor listens to Rush and watches Fox News, all this hate for the libruls, those evil America-hatin' libruls, atheist homosexual welfare baby pacifists!

Thordaddy said...

Darth Whitey,

Calling faux-liberals on their incoherency has nothing to do with hate.

The question that isn't being asked is WHY?

Why are blacks and "liberals" so up-in-arms about a guy who is acting liberally?Do you have an answer or do you think, like most liberals attempt to do, that calling "liberals" out on their phony outrage requires one listen to Rush or Fox News?

BTW, I also almost never watch or listen to either.

Kat said...

In reference to the article, I've never met an actual black African refer to themselves as "African-Americans". They usually go by their specific country, i.e Nigerian-American.

I find it interesting that black Africans avoid the term while some white africans are increasingly embracing the term.

In the meantime: According to the U.S Census: African Americans or Black Americans are currently defined as citizens or residents of the United States who have origins in any of the black populations of Africa.

Kat said...

According to small CNN post, the people complaining about the white guy's self-identification were NOT people of color.

older_not_wiser said...

What is fascinating about the story is how clearly it demonstrates the fact that all racial designations are man-made creations that poorly define other human beings.Well said, Big Man. To me this is the most important lesson to take from this imbroglio. The urge to categorize ourselves and others is an almost-irresistible urge for humans, and there are sometimes valid reasons for doing so. But such categorization is inevitably divides and dehumanizes us. Label if you must, but do not lose sight of its limitations and dangers.

Another lesson is that TV news's tendency toward the simplistic and sensationalistic extends to its Web sites, too. Hot Girl's post points out there's more to this than the "man bites dog" hook that got it published in the first place. Don't believe everything you read on the Web.

Marrio TheBlackGuy said...

I'm tired of labels!! I'm a Human Being not a product on a shelf to be labeled and categorized.

Raving Black Lunatic