By Marquise Griffin
“Black history is redundant. Or rather, Black History Month is redundant. I don’t really care much for it.” Reading these words, I stared at the computer screen disappointed and in slight disbelief, but not surprised. This statement was from one of my cousins as part of an ongoing discussion she and I have engaged in through Facebook Messenger regarding racism and what it means to be black in America.
My cousin is an African American woman and senior at a university in Missouri. Though we’re first cousins, we have completely different experiences and outlooks on being black, racism, and discrimination.
We started off talking about African American vernacular English, also known as Ebonics, and code switching. While I argued that understanding Ebonics is crucial to understanding and connecting with the African American experience, she doesn’t see any difference between Ebonics and slang.
In case you don’t know, code switching is a term used to describe the practice of “switching” between Ebonics and ‘proper’ English depending on the setting and the people one talks to. It’s a very useful skill to have because if an African American uses Ebonics in an academic or professional setting, he or she will be viewed as uneducated and “ghetto”.
Ebonics was a central point of a conversation I and six other black male students had with Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. approximately two weeks ago. Dr. Moore, the founder of a diversity consulting business called America & Moore came to Kalamazoo College to facilitate the Power, Privilege, and Leadership training. The seven of us met with Dr. Moore during dinner to discuss his research on the experiences of being black men attending predominantly white, liberal arts institutions.
The main topic we discussed is where does the line between adapting and assimilating end and begin? Dr. Moore asserted that by code switching we are forcing ourselves to assimilate into white culture and restricting ourselves from being who we ‘really are.’
We didn’t all agree on this. Some of us argued that code switching is analogous to language acquisition and is simply an adaptation we must make in order to advance in academic and society.
That’s just one of the many issues racism forces us to confront. Racism forces us to question our identity from everything in the friends we have, the way we speak, and our style of dress. Racism permeates relationships.
My cousin and I have always been close, but lately our diverging views on racism have been making our conversations quite tense. I feel that she’s deliberately blind to racism, while she believes I’m seeing too much. So if first-cousins can’t see eye-to-eye on this, how can a college campus with people from many different backgrounds discuss this?
I believe the answer lies in our school’s motto, “Lux Esto”: be light. I believe we must all strive to be enlightened and enlighten one another. In this way, we can understand each others’ experiences and help one another see the world as it really is.