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.