Sunday, October 26, 2008

What Am I? How Much Do We Really Choose Where We Fit?

I was reading an article today about the impending election (can't it just be OVER yet?!) and thinking about one I read a few weeks ago. In the article, the writer talked about Obama "choosing" to identify with the Afircan American community. At the time it struck me as naive and silly. Today it strikes me as even more so. Let's face facts. Even if Barack Obama has a white mom from Kansas, on the outside he's black. I grew up in a still very racially divided American South.

Do you know that when I was in 1-3 grades, one of the girls I went to school with was the daughter of the head of the Ku Klux Klan. Yep, the grand poobah of the KKK was my classmates' daddy. And, how did I know? Well, she told me with pride in her voice, obviously. You see, it was a legacy in her family. First her great-grandaddy, then her grandaddy, then her daddy. Does that sound like an American that has overcome it's race problems?

The schools I went to typically had an overwhleming majority of whites. But, I always had black friends. Most of them lived around the corner, they were raised just like we were, they sounded just like we did. And yet, if the cops were going to pull someone over, I assure you it was them. Because, no matter how "white" they may have been raised, they look black. They don't choose to be African-American, they are. Period. And, really how different is that than anywhere else in the world.

The Beans all have blond hair and blue eyes. Do you think that will color the way they are viewed at school and in society? They won't choose to be American-Jordanian. They just are. Now, I'm positive they will become just one more part of the fabric that makes up Jordan. The Arabic they speak will be the same Palestinian/Jordanian brand of the area. Their cultural upbringing will be local (and American at the same time). But, always, when people look at them, they will see Americans.

Let me give a simple example of this. Junior Bean's teacher was telling me how pleased she was with him because he asked her bil 3arabi, "Miss A, biddi aruuh 3al hamam, lo samahti." The next thing she said was, even the Arab kids don't ask in complete sentences bil 3arabi. She backtracked worrying about offering offense and said, I mean not that he isn't an Arab, I mean the ones with two Arab parents. Now, I'm not the least bit offended. I know that when you look at the Beans you see Americans. That's reality. But, do you think they have any choice whatsoever? Of course not, because perception is reality.

So, in the end, how much choice do we have in what community is ours? Although I may live here many years, in the end I'll still be the American in the room...

Happy Color-Blindness!


At 1:08 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend of ours in the US is 100% Kenyan, raised in upper-class schools in Nairobi. He has a VERY hard time with these issues, as if he is a traitor to his race according to some US African Americans, but painted with the racist paintbrush by those who still have it.

It must be very difficult to embrace never being fully what people expect of you. I value Se. Obama for the virtue of forgiving those who do.

I can imagine Jr. Bean getting smothered with kisses for asking so poliely, ma azkak!

At 1:36 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Indeed. It's an interesting conundrum, isn't it?

At 6:43 AM , Blogger Ali Dahmash said...

My natinality is not my Passport or ID, it is what I represent, what I believe, the traits I carry, the way I talk, behave, the culture, it is what makes me American, Jordanian, Canadian, French, South African. But recently in Jordan, this identity is lost, I see parents whom both are Jordanian who speak only English with thier kids ,why? Are we so afraid that our kids will not learn propper English?
I don't want the identity of Jordanian kids to be lost, I dont want it to be a copy of the US or Europe, I want it to be Jordanian but with the refined ethics and good behaviour of American kids. Your kids are a sample of that.

At 9:30 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Ali, I do agree that nationality is a state of mind. However, human nature dictates that whatwe can readily see is what we will use to put people into categories.

Oh, and my kids are awesome, no doubt. But, tey will noy be fully Jordanian nor fully American. My goal is to give them the best of both...

At 10:03 AM , Blogger Khadra said...

I identify with what your beans will experience. I am 50% Jordanian, however I look "white". To my Jordanian family, I am white, and American. I personally feel I belong to both the "white" race and the Arabian race, but the truth is, I still look "white".

One time an X-ray tech told me I couldnt possibly be the person on my ID. My name indicated a person who would have different coloring. How rude and ignorant that sounded!

Back here in North America it makes things interesting. I am now living in Oklahoma where people think it is perfectly acceptable to bash those Muslims and A-rabs, and then my husband or I will speak up and let them know a little about my background. It shuts people up quickly and makes everyone feel awkward. Not sure where the rambling is going here, just wanted to let you know, I can definitely identify with this post.

At 8:56 PM , Blogger Hani Obaid said...

Mommabean, yes he will always be conspicuously black, and 90% of the American population is white, but this should be as relevant as someone having red hair!

Look at it this way, how much does someone being black tell you about who they are ?

Compare that to how much more information you have about a Jordanian knowing that their mom is American.

One is just cosmetic, and the other one identifies them as a member of a whole second culture.

The other side of the argument is that black is a culture in itself, perhaps one that listens to rap music, speaks in ebonics, and loves playing basketball! To me that sounds more like a stereotype than a culture, particularly since all of the above (rap, basketball, ebonics) are popular with American youth of all colors.

At 2:20 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Hani, thanks for your thoughts. In fact, since my kids go to local school and have loal friends, the fact that they are blond should be immaterial. But the reality is that it is not. Of course, my point here is really that saying he "chose" the African-American community is naive. He did not have a "choice". He could ahve called himself white till the cows come home, his appearance would always be a barrier.

Now, as for whether this is relevant to his ability to be President? Of course not. My vote is already cast and I'm an unashamed Obama supporter. His race is immaterial to the conversation to me. But, I'm sure it is more material to many of my fellow home-staters...

At 2:10 PM , Blogger Hani Obaid said...

I expect what makes your kids special isn't that they're blonde, but that you raised them. Good thing for them, I think 3rd culture kids tend to have insights into both cultures that the natives of each culture cannot.

In the same sense Obama would have been Kenyan American if he hadn't been separated from his father at age 2.

Eventhough both my parents are Arab, I am slightly less so because I spent too much time abroad.

Some people still consider him Kenyan American simply based on his bloodlines. I think these are the racist ones. Incidentally we have a lot of racism in our own culture, not only based on whether you're an arab or not, but which country, then which city your family originally descended from, and which part of the city even. In fact all of the above would be among the first things an arab would ask another arab on meeting them. Then the stereotyping begins :)

I hope I haven't inadvertently said anything offensive.

At 10:26 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Hani, I couldn't agree more. And, I assure you my kids are odd in SO many ways. Most of them stem from my raising them, teehee.


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