This is an post I wrote over nine (9) years ago on the art of conforming. I didn't realize that at the time but, reflecting back, that's exactly what is was...is. What astonishes me today is that I can recycle this blog post and, aside from some of the current event references (which are definitely no longer current), the content still rings true. What follows is still stunningly accurate and in the face of today's social and racial climate, a necessary tome for how some feel in the work world (and in life) today.
Some of what I express may not be popular but it was how I felt, what I thought, and the way in which I perceived the world at that time. While I have grown considerably, not much around me has changed. Perceptions are still overtly evident, bias (both conscious and un/sub-conscious exist, and far too many people are afraid that being themselves simply isn't good enough. And that, is NEVER okay!
So, with that, I present to you...Dumbing Down?
“You’re so white”.
It’s amazing how one sentence…three simple words, which on their own, really mean next to nothing, can be so profound and eye-opening when strung together in such a way. This one, simple but oft times offensive, albeit life-changing sentence is one that I have heard many times over my 31 young years. Now, I am very proud of my background and culture. I love that I have strived to become educated, and continue to do so, despite multiple hardships. I admire that I carry myself with respect, dignity, and class. Above all, I relish my achievements, against everybody’s unwelcome but freely-spoken disparagements. I have overcome and I have achieved more than anybody thought it was possible for me to do. But, despite, or maybe in spite of all of my accomplishments…I AM NOT WHITE!
I am black, but I will leave that alone for now.
So, I refer back to the GhettoNation book discussion that I wrote about before. As I was watching this discussion, one person in the audience started talking about how she has to "Dumb Down" between work and home because her "peeps" thinks she acts too "white". When the author provoked her more, the young lady in the audience explained that at work she is very cheerful, energetic, and willing to help out when needed. At home, she feels like she has to behave in a certain manner in order to be accepted. If she says “hello” to a passerby, her friends look at her sideways. If she reads a book that is not perceived to be a “black book” then she is questioned. The young lady continued on to say that in order to fit in, she just changes her persona…she is one person at work and a totally different person at home…a challenge that she is not sure she is up to continuing.
I can empathize with this young lady. I know exactly what she is going through, how she feels, and the struggles she still has left to endure. I have had to live with the same issues and accusations my whole life as well. I still continue to fight with the demons of my acceptance. Watching this discussion and hearing this young lady talk about her need…her desire to fit in and be accepted by her own people got me to thinking…Exactly what is "Acting White" and "Acting Black"? What does "Dumbing Down" mean? As black professionals, do we really have to "Dumb Down" in order to be recognized by whites and accepted by our black counterparts?
I will be the first to admit that I am completely, without a question, guilty of this. I am very refined, professional, and almost bourgeois when I am at work. I laugh and smile at the corny jokes, I wear the “uniform”…muted colored, casual, yet preppy, not-quite-so dressed up look, and I put that high…almost squeaky, inflection in my words that gives an essence of pertness and vigor. All this “fakeness” helps me to fit in at work…a world where I am successful and coveted for my experience and knowledge. When I am around my friends, I chill a bit more. There is more slouch in my posture, more slang in my vocabulary, and in general, just a bit more ruggedness in my overall demeanor. I bump my music as onlookers bob their heads, I speak with the vernacular of the streets, even though I fight to stay current with the ever-changing, and even more confusing slang of the week. No matter which situation I’m faced with, I struggle to fit in…always on the edge of being discovered and portrayed as the fraud that I am. The little mixed-breed mulatto…searching for acceptance.
Back to the discussion…Cora Daniels asked that young lady in her audience where she felt more comfortable…at work or at home. Without so much as a blink of her eye, the young lady stated “At home”.
“Than that is who you should be”, Cora proclaimed. That simple…but was it really? That made me begin to take a long hard look at my life and who I am…what defines me or what is it that I allow to define me?
Looking at my life and who I am as a person, I can say that I definitely think I speak proper. I articulate my thoughts and pronounce my words. I use proper noun-verb agreement and actually understand what a past predicate and present participle is as well as how and when to use them. To my friends, I am speaking “white”. I never quite understood what that meant...to me, it is simply speaking proper English. I also try to behave in a manner in which I would like to be treated. I speak and smile when I pass somebody. I hold the door for people and I read…a lot. Some people (mainly my black friends) call that speaking or acting "White". I call it simply being proper, polite, educated, and friendly.
Unfortunately, it does not appear that is how “we” as a people see it. In my opinion, that is what continues to hold us back. We constantly say how we can never get ahead and we blame everything but "us" for this...the white man, statistics, economy, and our surroundings. We never look within ourselves to see what we can change... It seems like there is more praise when we do wrong, because we are "keeping it real" than when we do right or do "white"...so much so that it kills me. It kills the essence of who we are as a people. It kills the struggle that we have fought so hard over the years. It kills the future that our ancestors died trying to create for us.
Besides, living two lives is exhausting, so in the end, I choose to just be one person…me. Take it leave it…love it or hate it…or whichever cliché you choose to allocate. Where am I more comfortable? At home…where I can shed the costume and the mask of my other personas and truly just exist. Where I listen to jazz and neo-soul, hip-hop, rock, and classical. Where I curl up with a great book and drink herbal tea or a strong cup of coffee. Where I can practice yoga and meditate. Where I can just be me. This is where I am most comfortable.
I am tired of constantly being accused of sounding, acting, and thinking “white”. But I choose now to ignore it and live my life the way that I see fit. I will never truly understand what this statement means in the way that it has been posed to me. The dictionary definition of the slang meaning of white is “decent, honorable, or dependable”. While I can argue the offensiveness of this definition to infinity, if that is what people are implying when they declare that I am too “white”, then I will nod my head and cheerfully, albeit whitely agree…