Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ownership Society

For me, the Rachel Dolezal controversy reminds me of one of the things that had tended to separate me from many of the other Black people I've encountered over the years - the idea of ownership of Black identity.

I never really learned to have a sense of ownership of being Black, because it was merely a physical characteristic, like having a nose or ten fingers. Therefore, there was nothing about it to possess. But for a lot of people I met, especially during my freshman year of college, being Black was something that set them apart from others. It created a level of specialness, and therefore was something to be protected, and kept away from the undeserving.

On the one hand, I understood it, but on the other, it struck me as strange. I didn't see what was so precious about being Black that it needed to be withheld from other people - or retained by me. If someone else wanted to be Black, why did I care? (The care with which White people had once guarded Whiteness made more sense to me - there was money on the line.) In the end, it was something that I argued over with people when I was in college, but once I moved into the adult working world, it stopped mattering - mainly because people indulge in fewer Random Acts of Activism as they age, and I moved in more diverse circles.

But, of course, there is a difference between out-of-sight-out-of-mind and nonexistent. And the concept is still important to a lot of people. And so the role of gatekeeper remains. It would be interesting to see how long it persists.

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