Saturday, July 28, 2007

What Makes One More 'X' Identity Than Others?

It's been about three weeks since I last posted. To anyone who actually keeps checking this blog, I must apologize. So many things have been keeping me busy, but at least my internet seems to be stable now.

I've definitely been thinking about this blog and various posts I've wanted to write. I haven't written anything yet because many of the posts I've wanted to write are about other people I know. I know that some of them do read blogs, and even with changing their names it can get tricky because I really want to tell some stories about what's been going on with us...and, well, the stories are easily recognizable. But I've finally decided that these things really need to be discussed. So, this first post (I plan to come back and write about these other people/events that have happened since I haven't been posting) is about the silly way various "minority" communities--blacks, gays, women, etc--think about who is 'X' enough and/or who doesn't identify enough.

What does that even mean? I mean, I actually can understand referring to people in terms of "acting black" and "acting white," passing for straight and "acting gay"...because, let's face it, there are such things. It's just the connotation that's attached to those sayings that are wrong. There are personality characteristics that are more typical of whites, blacks, lesbians, gay males, men and women. And it's not so much that these things are biological than they are environmental. This is not really what I want to focus on, but it sets the stage for what I do want to focus on.

Those of you who have read other posts in my blog might have read a bit about my friend Nikki. Nikki is a black female from an African family, and she is very outgoing. She's one of those people whom everyone in school knows because of her personality. White, Asian, Latino, black, gay, straight--it doesn't matter. She's also, to me, kind of fickle, possibly because of her age and possibly because of her lack of worldliness. By "fickle," I mean she seems to be one of those people whose thoughts and ideas change according to who she's talking to. She doesn't have a set identity, in other words, that makes her stand up to people and say, "This is who I am and what I think. No apologies for it." I mention that to say that when she's around some black people, she seems to adopt a "black" way of viewing the world. However, she--as many blacks at my law school strike me to be--is very naive about race and racial issues.

Most of the blacks at my school think they are blacker than they actually are, which I don't think is uncommon for black students at predominantly white universities. I can't figure out Nikki for sure because of how fickle she is, but I don't really think she is one of these blacks. In general, she doesn't seem to make a big deal about race. So, even though she adopts or agrees with a "black" viewpoint in some conversations, she doesn't really engage in placing the convoluted standards of blackness on other blacks that these, in actuality, stuck-between-two-worlds blacks at my school do. Their blackness measure seems to be coming to all the "black" events on and off campus, socializing mainly with blacks and things of that nature.

See, I think that--if you're going to put any kind of standards on who is and isn't really black--blackness is really about caring about other blacks and the problems that afflict a lot of blacks, knowing black history, being aware of current racial issues concerning blacks, wanting to help blacks and things of that nature. It's not how many blacks you hang out with, saying all the right things around other blacks, liking "black" stuff and how many black events at which you can show your face. Blackness is black awareness, to me. It's being self-conscious (i.e. knowing how others view you because of race, knowing that you don't belong in certain places because of race, anticipating how you will be treated because of race, and so on) and being realistic about your place in the world as a black person.

The truth is that a lot of the blacks in college aren't truly aware of themselves and others on a racial basis. They draw these dividing lines and don't really know what for. Many of them have spent their lives in black clusters, so they have standards for blacks and look down on blacks who don't meet them as not being black enough. But, because they've been in a safe box all their lives, they haven't experienced and aren't truly aware of the discrimination that I find necessary in order to justify really being the kind of black person who doesn't want to have much of anything to do with non-blacks. In other words, they're segregationists for no reason--they haven't really been treated like shit by whites because they haven't really allowed themselves to be around non-blacks, or they simply didn't grow up around many non-blacks. Yes, all of us are discriminated against by non-blacks, but it's something different when real discrimination by "others" has touched you personally and resulted in your being alienated time and time again...not when you realized at a young age that blacks have certain standards for you to meet and you decided to do it so that you wouldn't be alienated by black people. The discrimination that drives these kinds of black people is black-on-black discrimination, not everyone-else-against-blacks discrimination.

Interesting, but the threat of not being accepted by people simply for being who I am makes me not want to hang out with or be like them. That's the main reason why I keep my distance from other gays, not to mention why I have long been over fitting in with blacks. I'm not going to become something I'm not to please people, especially people who think their way is the right way but are totally naive and lost.

Now, Nikki might not be as bad as these other blacks at my school, but she is irritatingly naive. When you're in law school, you're supposed to get summer jobs with legal employers. I work for a public interest agency, which those are the lawyers who don't make good money. The assumption, both among lawyers and non-lawyers, is that everyone is going to a law firm or that's what everyone wants. So, honestly, I feel that I get looked down upon for where I work and what I'm interested in. But you're about to find out why I am perfectly happy in public interest as opposed to those overhyped law firms. The one thing I can say about my summer job, even though I've been bored to death by it, is the environment is incredibly non-alienating and accepting, despite the fact that the only blacks there--except one--are non-legal staff positions. Never do I feel out of place there because I'm black, and I don't think there's a law firm out there that I would have been able to say the same for.

Here it is:

I've heard several stories this summer about racial & ethnic minorities being discriminated against by law firms. I'd always thought that law firms at least had the good sense to wait until you actually worked there before they started engaging in the standard law firm discrimination. Standard law firm discrimination includes not giving the minorities good work assignments or as many work assignments as whites, not providing adequate mentoring to minorities as they do with whites, not giving minorities adequate feedback on their work, not including the minorities in important meetings or gatherings that are social and/or could lead to career-boosting work, etc. I call this "standard" not only because this is the typical kind of law firm discrimination, but also because this just seems to happen in so many law firms that it's like you should know this is exactly what will happen if you're a minority headed to a law firm. Everybody in law school and the legal profession knows the elements of standard law firm discrimination.

As it turns out, all of the stories I've heard this summer involved law students, none of whom have gotten a wake-up call about law firms from their experiences. Three of the students weren't even working at the firms that discriminated, but were at a reception held by the law firm. I guess that means that this lack of good sense on the part of law firms actually is still good sense after all--it's the minorities who lack good sense.

Nikki certainly does. The discrimination she has experienced this summer at her law firm is nearly as obvious as it gets without being called a "nigger," to the point where even white people--both at her office and those who don't even know Nikki but have just heard the story--can decidedly offer their opinion that her treatment is racial discrimination. Still, Nikki doesn't believe it. She makes excuses for the firm, believes their explanations as to why the firm ignores only her, and actually plans to return after graduation to work for them full-time! You might wonder why a firm is discriminating against her, then offering her a job. It's simple. She's just a brown face to satisfy the American Bar Association, their firm's propaganda materials about how they "care about diversity," the law schools and other liberal groups that "worry" about the number of minorities in law schools and as lawyers declining. It's the law firm's way of saying, "See? We have niggers, now quit bugging us about needing to increase our minority stats!" That's what law firms do. Lawyers are not stupid, you know, so they're not going to be obvious.

Even so, the lawyers at Nikki's firm are as close to being obvious as it gets, and it that she can't even tell when or refuses to believe that this is a bad situation. Even whites have said that she doesn't need to go back to this firm after graduation, and they were horrified to find out that she was. When people get like this with me, I feel like telling them, "Fine. If you're not going to listen, be an idiot...but don't keep talking to me about it. I don't want to sit and listen to you being stupid!" And minorities like this, to me, deserve what they end up getting...because you know if she goes back to that firm, things are going to go and go and go until she can't deny it anymore...only then, everyone will wonder why she stayed so long. I'm not asking the girl to file a lawsuit; just acknowledge what's happening and leave the damn place alone!

This is someone that black people at my school accept as one of them, yet I believe that the same kind of thing can and will happen to many of them. My question is, if you're so black, then why is it that you can't even tell when you're being discriminated against...even when it's as! And if you're so black, why are you going to let people discriminate against you? Frankly, this is the kind of thing that would make me disgusted enough with a minority or a woman to stay away from them...not how many black or gay events they attend, or a woman's fashion sense (or lack thereof). I really can't even explain to you how angry it makes me to see minority after minority be a total dumbass this summer...and then when we get back to school, they're going start on their "Black Law Students Association Barbeque" and "LGBT Commission National Coming Out Week Celebration" bullshit again. I mean, is being a "real" black or gay really all about socializing?!?!

Because many of the standards for being gay involve socialization, as well. "How many LGBT meetings have you been to?" "Are you coming to the LGBT bar outing tonight?" "Are you going to the pride parade?" "How many people are you out to?" All questions I've been asked in the last year or so by people when I'd just met them. I remember LA Girl asked me one time if all my friends were straight white females. It's like they're all tests designed to see whether or not you're really gay and if you're someone the gayfer asking wants to give the time of day. What about sitting down at some of these gay events and discussing why gays have such a problem embracing transsexuals, transgendereds, bisexuals and people who aren't out, and figuring out what needs to change in order to make the community more inclusive? And speaking of inclusive, why not discuss the lack of visibility of queer minorities and the alienation of these minorities by white gays? Why not go beyond publicly blaming Isaiah Washington and blacks for being homophobic and tap into how many gays are racist and hate queer people who are not either L or G, not to mention straight people?

All this social crap and who you hang out with are not what makes you part of an identity group. First of all, you just are--you were born into these groups, for better or for worse (oftentimes, for worse). Acting one way or the other doesn't change that. Second, how does partying it up at gay bars and parades really have anything to do with gay rights? Because so many gays act like we're all supposed to be out, and living and breathing making gays "equal" every second of every day...but all many of them do is complain or get on soap boxes on blogs, to friends, to gays they don't accept, to "evil" straight people, to the media...and then go party. I know many gays are activists, and I know many gays spend time really learning about the issues. I'm talking about the average, everyday blacks or gays you meet who think they are so much more black or gay than everybody else but don't do shit and don't know shit.

Most of the blacks at my school are going into richy-rich law firms, and many of the gays are, too. Law firms filled with straight, white, overprivileged, spoiled brats who do nothing but help straight, white, overprivileged, spoiled brats. And when they get there, they aren't going to even think about reaching one hand back to help a black or gay law student or pre-law student who is seeking advice, looking for a mentor or wishing to shadow a lawyer for a day. I know, because I have been that student reaching out to black lawyers and gay lawyers, and the majority of them--actually, all of the gay ones--were less than enthusiastic, many of them never responding to my e-mails or calls. They get their "success" and then don't give a shit about others in their community. Oh, but they're soooo black, soooo gay. They'd rather work with brats and make a lot of money than help people who really need it.

The black students at my school barely lift a finger to help out blacks now, unless it's a black person they know and accept. There are always strings attached, and, yet, they are the first ones to judge someone's identity. Although it seems gays help other gays more than blacks help blacks, with the exception of one person, my experience with gays has been much worse than my experience with blacks. I absolutely can't stand people being naive, but what I hate even more than that is people being hypocritical. I've probably done more in my summer work to help blacks and gays than these people with silly standards ever do.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Law, Latinos & The City

Sorry it's been a while. I am still having trouble with my internet, and I am thinking this is going to go on all summer. The good thing, I guess, is that after this week I only have five more weeks here. I love Chicago, but I am just not thrilled about my living arrangements and job.

I have actually thought of so many things I could post here, from topics to articles I've read about race or sexuality to quotes from some of the books I've been reading. The truth is that, in addition to the internet problems, I just don't have the energy. It's not that I'm physically tired. Part of me is just pretty depressed, so it's more along the lines of that kind of energy loss, i.e. not wanting to do anything. The stuff with the apartment is something I just don't want to go into, and I'm tired of complaining about the job and how I don't think I want to be a lawyer because thinking about not wanting to be a lawyer really is what's most depressing. The internet stuff pisses me off a lot, although there's more to my issues with my apartment than just that. The funny thing about me is that I can live in a hot-as-hell, small-as-a-box, random-black-shit-in-the-shower, stanky piece of shit as long as I have the internet and some music. The music part is probably the only thing keeping me sane.

I will say this, though, about the lawyer situation: I have started thinking about what else I could do a year from now, and that has entailed my looking for books that discuss alternative career paths for lawyers who don't want to be lawyers. It seems most of those books are geared towards people who have practiced law and want to get out. Anyway, I noticed this one person writing reviews on Amazon for several books and got a sense of her story, so I decided to contact her because I was curious about what she ended up doing after graduation. Answer? She's doing nothing. She's been out of law school for over a year now, and she has yet to find a non-legal career-type job. So now she is essentially forced to run back to law, and that peppered her un-asked for advice to me, which was to stick with law, basically. And I understand why she said that, because her experience with trying to find a job after law school that wasn't related to law was my experience with trying to find a job after college.

The difference between her and me is that she, I guess, cannot settle for a job that is not really a career but I could. If nobody would have anything mean to say about it, I would seriously just come right out of law school and go to work for a Borders bookstore in Chicago, select the income-based loan repayment plan from Citibank and go on about life. I'd never get those loans paid off, of course, but I'd be happy. Looking back, I actually wish that was what I would have done in the first place, maybe even instead of college. So much for being so damn ambitious my entire life. And then on the other hand, I wonder every day just how completely intolerable practicing law would be to me, because I am sure that part of what I don't like is the kind of work interns and, in some legal environments, newer lawyers are given. I really go back and forth on it, even though from what I do know about practicing law I know it's definitely not the best career choice for me, regardless of the attorney's level.

One thing I found really interesting, though, is she mentioned that so many people had written her about her reviews and not wanting to be lawyers. So it's definitely not just me, which is not surprising in the slightest. It's just amazing that so many of us go so wrong, because law school is so much time and way too much money. And people look at you like it's such a prestigious, amazing thing to attend law school and become a lawyer, so how could you ever "throw that away." I am not at all kidding you when I say that there are very few careers that are as or more boring as/than law, and there are very few kinds of people with whom you can surround yourself who are as or more boring as/than lawyers. There are certainly interesting moments, and I have met definite exceptions...but my general experience on both of those points is what I just wrote. That's one of the reasons why I cringe when people talk about being interested in law school, becoming a lawyer or suggest that dating/marrying a lawyer is a good idea. Knowing what I know now, there's nothing more laughable to me than the way TV depicts doctors and lawyers as these physically hot, fascinating, exciting, charming and/or oftentimes player/whore/heartbreaker-type people. Oh my goodness, talk about the biggest fiction on TV!

Other than that, let me discuss more pleasant things. Some of you might recall that I have become interested in learning about other minority groups in America. I do "fun" stuff on the weekends, and this past weekend that included visiting the bookstore. Even though all I do at work is read and read and read--which had brought me to the point of thinking I'd never do any outside reading whatsoever during this summer simply because I wouldn't feel like it--you have to understand that I like to read, particularly certain kinds of things. Maybe not law all the time, but I can read about social issues anytime. So I ended up in the sections of the bookstore that deal with those kinds of issues--history, politics, African American Studies, Latin-American Studies, Asian-American Studies and so on. I looked for a Gay and Lesbian Studies section, but all I ended up seeing was "Gay and Lesbian Fiction," i.e. gay erotica essentially.

Anyways, I was in heaven because all these interesting books in the Latin-American section caught my eye. I picked up book after book, read the backs, looked at the table of contents, flipped to some of the most interesting sections. I pulled out a pen and a strip of paper and wrote down all the titles I liked. I decided that I needed to wait to look more closely at Asian and Native American books just for financial reasons, so since the Latino books got my attention first I focused only on those. My original plan was to return to the bookstore this coming weekend and look at Asian books, but I actually ended up spending approximately $80 this past weekend on about six books--four of them about Latinos, one an alternative career guide for lawyers and another about mixed-race people.

In the bookstore, I told myself, "Pick only two and buy the rest on Amazon" because those books tended to cost $20 a piece...which is why I never buy books in the bookstore in the first place. But those books were too interesting to just leave all of them there, so I picked the two that seemed like they might be the most revealing to me in terms of learning about what it's like for Latinos in America and how some Latinos think about themselves, as well as others.

The first book I chose is called "Ask A Mexican" by Gustavo Arellano. I knew I had to leave the store with that one because it was funny and very un-PC. He's kind of like the male me. He will write anything, and the way he writes it results in my believing every word because of the fact that he is so direct and doesn't hold back. He also deals with offensive e-mails from people and doesn't seem to get upset about what people say. He just tells it like it is from his idea of a Mexican's perspective, and that's the kind of thing I'm looking for and try to do myself as a black/biracial/queer person. The thing about his book is it's basically all online for free since they are basically Q's & A's taken from his online column...but that's okay, because his book is worth buying, plus the problems with my internet made it kind of irritating trying to look at his column.

The one question I wish was in his book, though, is why do Latinos hate blacks...which I know really is a generalization, but that's kind of the way questions were posed to him and, more or less, the way he would answer questions. There was a question about why do blacks hate Latinos, but not the other way around. I have never hated Latinos, by the way. When I was younger, I was actually pretty fascinated with them. I wanted to be Latina, at one point. Now that I'm older, I think they probably have the most interesting culture and so many are physically attractive, but it irritates me that so many of them don't appreciate, learn about or relate to their culture and seem to prefer whiteness and white people while putting down blacks.

The second book speaks to that quite a bit, which I knew would make it the perfect second choice. It's called "Mi Voz, Mi Vida: Latino College Students Tell Their Life Stories" by Garrod, Kilkenny and Gomez. You get so many things from reading this book. It's just funny in so many ways, in the ironic sense. You see how similar and, yet, different from blacks Latinos are. You see some of why they are able to do better in the US than blacks are, in my opinion, and it's not just the "fact" that racism is worse towards blacks than Latinos. It's not a better or worse approach, in my opinion--just the way things are. What I'm referring to shows similarities between Latinos and Asians that most people don't really see, and that's basically the role of the parents, feeling pushed by them and/or pushing yourself because you feel you have something to prove because of your background or the sacrifices of your parents. Many blacks definitely get off onto this "prove yourself" mentality, but I think we do so less than other minority groups just because we feel its least beneficial to us.

I don't think it's that mentality that carries Latinos or Asians farther than blacks, or at least not entirely, so much as it is the story told over and over in the book by various Latinos about trying their best to leave their culture behind in order to fit in with whites. I know firsthand that pleasing whites on a "not X enough" personality level where 'X' equals your cultural background works wonders, although it's an act I rejected once I realized that a lot of people really do use it for the sole purpose of fitting in with whites...something I hadn't really been trying to do on purpose, with the exception of listening to certain kinds of music. Basically, I'm saying a lot of Latinos and Asians seem to work harder at trying to fit in with and be like whites than blacks do, and their efforts are rewarded.

One story in the book even aligns with my idea that when you are less assimilated in personality, you're rewarded less by whites. There was this Latino who was told by one of his white friends as a kid that he (the Latino) is whiter than him (the white kid). Now, as the stories usually go in this book, the Latino started to learn more about himself culturally once he got off to college. So the next time he saw this white friend--with whom he had been friends with since 4th grade, mind you--he gave him a business card that said "empowering the Latino community" on it. The white guy was like, "Jose is Latino now" and "Our little brown friend is creating community!" in a mocking tone and called it "crap." When Jose checked him, white boy was just like, "Hey, Mr. Latino..." Jose checked him again, then walked off. I'm pretty sure they aren't friends anymore, and all because Jose decided to get closer to his culture.

Several stories refer to racism towards blacks, either in the sense of the author's own racism growing up or other Latinos' racism. No one really explicitly does what I'm sure my man Arellano would and says exactly what Latinos' damage is with blacks. But what I get from the story--as well as many of Arellano's responses to other questions in his book--is status in society and a culturally-based Latino belief that white is good and even among Latinos being dark is disparaged--which I must say I find sick but not entirely unlike the dark vs light battle among blacks and black males' preference for non-black females. By status, I mean dating a white person is "dating up" while dating a black person is "dating down," and Latinos' whole reason for being in America is to move up...and also the burning desire that at least some Latinos, i.e. ones in this book, have to not be affiliated with negative cultural stereotypes, not even ones related to their own culture. So, some of these Latinos would discuss how they viewed all minorities, including Latinos, negatively growing up...seemingly because whites did...and seemed to think being one of those minorities would hinder opportunities for success in life.

It's past time for me to eat some dinner, but one last thing. I have never gotten complimented as much in my life as I have living in Chicago. For example, I thought that I would hate men talking to me in a hitting-on-you sense. It's actually pretty cool, though, just knowing someone--no matter who they are--thinks you're attractive and you can tell they're not just saying that. And for me to believe someone thinks I'm good-looking, they were serious, because I never believe that. It's crazy, too, because there are hot people all over Chicago. So for me to be getting compliments, have people staring and men hitting on me...!

When I went to the bookstore, this woman complimented my hair. Okay. The one thing I quickly noticed about Chicago is all the black women in my age range keep their hair "did." I'm not a hair "did" kind of chick, so I have definitely felt like a scrub around here. Everywhere else, places where my hair should be considered the best black hair by white standards, I tend to get nothing...if anything, it's that subtle I'm-a-real-black-woman-because-I-can't-get-a-comb-through-my-hair or you-need-to-stop-getting-your-hair-permed kind of nonsense. And the whites are fascinated with that kind of black hair. So for me to get compliments about my hair in Chicago, where black women have perms and just don't give a damn about how "black" their hair looks--I guess maybe because they feel like living in Chicago vouches for their blackness?--is something else.

All I've got to say is I love this city! My self-esteem might be dropping in one area, but it's rising in the area I needed a self-esteem boost the most, i.e. looks and romance. I'm starting to guess that I just need to quit living in all the redneck, lily-white places I've lived in such as Georgia, Michigan and Tennessee. Of course I was never going to find anyone to be with in those places! Everyone's either a white redneck, a fake white liberal, bottom of the barrel (and I don't mean looks) or a date-everyone-but-blacks minority in those places. So I guess I need to figure out what kind of job I want soon so that I can find them in Chicago, or else I really will be single forever!