Conversations surrounding identity as it relates to race, culture, and ethnicity are often difficult to partake in because not everyone’s identity falls into the US Census categories of race such as “Asian American” or “White”.
Students and faculty both had the opportunity to have such a discussion at February’s Coffee and Culture. An initiative of student life, Coffee and Culture is a monthly forum that explores identity through the selected topic.
Professor, Advisor, and Coordinator of the African American Education and Empowerment Program (AME), Dr. Jay Williams, described how people in the United States use the terms ethnicity, race, and nationality interchangeably when they aren’t. Ethnicity refers to people who identify with each other based on shared cultural practices, while nationality refers to the nation(s) that someone identifies with, whether that is their nation of origin or where they currently live. Finally, the modern concept of race was created as a social mechanism to categorize and control populations in colonial America.
This Coffee and Culture program, presented by the AME subgroup Antevasin, a mixed-race dialogue group, provided the MCTC community of students and staff more of an opportunity to discuss how the concepts of ethnicity, race, and nationality intersect within their lives and effect the ways that people view and ultimately accept them. It was hard not to become emotional when people shared their lives through the spoken word pieces, or through their own free write that they created.
While identity politics play themselves out differently in each defined community, there were many identifiable themes.
Some individuals described being shunned by communities for phenotypic characteristics like their skin color being way too dark to be considered attractive. One woman shared that it is common practice for people in her community to marry people with lighter skin as that confers a higher social status for themselves and their children. Even though modern science has proven that race has no real basis in biology, race is still a matter of life, death, acceptance or being ostracized, especially for people who belong to marginalized groups.
Still, others talked about social policing where they were told they didn’t belong to a certain community because they had certain hobbies or interests. Such a narrative is common in the Black community, as many of my loved ones have been told they aren’t black enough because of being concerned about their education or not being from the most crime-ridden parts of the city.
Stereotypical ideas are damaging not only to individuals, but to entire communities whose growth becomes stagnated behind them.
Esther Callahan, Opinions Editor at City College News and founder of Antevasin, believes that “This event was a chance for myself and the MCTC community to come together and engage in a healing conversation around mixed identities – mixed race, mixed nationalities, transracial adoption, etc. We went over our slotted time which proves to me that this conversation was needed! I hope there are more events like this in the near future.”
Coffee and Culture did prove to be healing, but it is my hope that discussions around being of mixed ethnicities and cultures evolves from one centered on pain and not belonging to a conversation centered on strengths. Everyone encompasses the liminal, the quality of existing outside of socially defined categories, whether they realize it or not. It takes individuals like those who attended Coffee and Culture to bring that reality to the forefront.
If you would like to further participate in dialogue surrounding people with complex racial, ethnic and/or racial identities, check out Antevasin, a discussion and support group within AME. Antevasin meets twice a month on Fridays within the AME space, room H.2650. The next Antevasin meeting will be held on Friday, March 4 starting at 1:30 p.m.
All are welcome to come to Antevasin meetings, as well as the AME center!