Welp. We’re one week into Black Awareness Month and the whining and complaining about all the blackness is in full effect.
“Why does it have to be Black achievements? Why can’t it just be achievements?”
“Why is it African-American? We’re all just Americans.” #murica
The Weather Channel has a new episode called Weathering the Storm: African-Americans in Meteorology with Dr. Marshall Shepherd. There has been quite a lot of backlash on Facebook. After reading some of the comments and engaging in “debates” with some of the frustrated ‘Muricans, I felt this needed to be discussed.
As I was reading all the comments I had a realization: Other people think we say “Black” to send a message to them!
I had a conversation with a friend last year about the Blerd community (black + nerd = blerd) and she asked if saying blerd instead of nerd doesn’t just isolate us even further? My honest answer was: I don’t know. Maybe it does. Maybe we are.
So if there is a chance all the blackness may isolate us further from other people and may stifle inclusion, why do it?
Now, I can’t speak for black people everywhere, there are a variety of reasons people use the black label. However when I use it, 5% of it might be directed at non-Blacks to let them know we’re here. But 95% of my reasoning is directed at other black people!
When I was a sophomore in college and I changed my major from anthropology to geology, I had an aunt that drove up to Boston and lectured me about my poor decision. She asked me if I wanted to be the kind of person that smoked weed all day and didn’t shave my legs. In that moment I realized geology has an image issue that needs to be handled. However, it’s been 19 years since I made that decision and I can’t explain how many times I’ve heard “You’re a geologist?! No way! Black people don’t do geology!” This statement has always come from other black people. Always. Because black people have an image issue that needs to be handled.
When I was in grad school I was having lunch with a bunch of my grad student friends and we were talking about movies. One of my friends was trying to get a group of us to go see the first Lord of the Rings movie together. One of my (black) grad student friends responded “Please. I’m Black. We don’t watch sci-fi.” I disagreed and went and watched the movie. (Still one of my favs.)
What people don’t understand about racism, oppression, discrimination, and stereotyping is, the biggest problem isn’t the reactions of the “Others,” it’s the reactions of the oppressed! There are really black people running around today thinking geology isn’t for them. And what worries me the most about this mindset isn’t the black people who have no interest in geology. It’s the black people who are interested in geology but don’t pursue it for fear of losing their “black card” or being labelled “oreo” or being accused of “acting white”. College, grad school, and life in general is difficult enough. These things become unbearable when you don’t have the support of your family and community.
I can imagine how frustrated and attacked other people must feel if they think every time we label ourselves as Black, that it’s a backhanded message to them. I might be hostile towards Black Awareness Month too. So, let me assuage some fears with a handy infographic.
See, I fight to break down stereotypes not because I’m hoping to convince other people that Blacks (and myself) are just like them and are equal. But I am hoping to convince Black people that we are just like everyone else and equal. This is the impact of 245 years of slavery followed by another 100 years of segregation and terrorism that is still affects people today. The impact takes the form of low achievement, impostor syndrome, and yes even reverse-racism at times.
The only solution I have to change the image of black people for the benefit of other black people, is to highlight our broadening community (hence Blerd and #BlackandSTEM) and our various achievements, like Black Awareness Month. Even if it comes with a risk of further isolation.
There is a need, power, and healing with shows like Weathering the Storm: African-Americans in Meteorology. And I hope you all will support it with us.
Happy Black Awareness Month everyone!