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Racial identity in balance or battle?

In the fall ’07
Scope Quarterly, Angel Pérez’s “Race, Class, and Belonging” ended with him pondering how to “balance two worlds.” As a doctoral student in clinical psychology with research interests in multicultural issues, I find the dilemma of balancing two worlds particularly intriguing.

For many people of color, this balancing act often involves resolving conflicts regarding racial identity. Research by scholars such as Beverly Tatum shows that racial-identity issues are likely to surface when people of color defy stereotypes or gain access to a second world that is historically white. While race is not always a proxy for socioeconomic status, many people of color also find themselves balancing two worlds when they belong to or become part of a high socioeconomic group.

When I stepped onto Skidmore’s campus in the fall of 1999, I too faced the dilemma of balancing two worlds. Characteristics that may have made me more socially “acceptable” to some white students resulted in my social rejection by many students of color. I felt the authenticity of my racial identity sometimes challenged by both sides, because I did not fit with many students’ perceptions of an African-American woman who was raised in the Bronx. Yet, throughout my four years at Skidmore, I became friends with students from various racial and socioeconomic backgrounds and learned a lot about their experiences
as individuals.

Today I continue to balance the two worlds by not allowing my racial identity to be defined by the way I speak, the music I listen to, the neighborhood I live in, or the socioeconomic group
I belong to. Rather, I define my racial identity based on the respect I have for African-Americans who paved the way for me and the pride I feel in belonging to a group of people who have persevered despite continued assaults on our well-being.

Given society’s inclination to place people in neat “boxes” based on characteristics such as race and socioeconomic status, balancing two worlds may be as much an external process as it is internal.

Shonda Lackey ’03
New York City

In “Hip Hop, Rap, and Race” [winter Scope Quarterly], Danny Tejada ’09 urges rap fans to avoid music with lyrics they find offensive and recommends the following songs as “conscious rap.” Let’s sample some of these songs:

Dead Prez’s “Police State” uses the word “niggers” and advocates violence against the police. The group recommends socialism, hates Rudy Giuliani, and wants black people to get together for (you will be shocked) revolution! Mos Def’s “Umi Says” is mostly about how he wants “black people to be free.” Apparently, he didn’t get the memo from President Lincoln. Public Enemy in “Rebel Without a Pause” talk about impeaching George Bush and say they’d be happy to kill Dick Cheney with a samurai sword. In his “Crack Music,” Kanye West says Ronald Reagan invented crack to keep the black man down, Mexicans want to kill blacks, and Bush gave anthrax to Saddam Hussein…

NaS risked being thrown out of the hip-hop brotherhood by releasing his song “I Can,” which encourages people to get an education and avoid drugs, and even samples classical music! But don’t worry: his upcoming album Nigger should put him in their good graces again.

If Republicans really were evil and bigoted, they could not have invented a better way to keep black people down than hip hop, which reinforces poor language skills, glorifies drug use and violence, blames others for their own drug use and incarceration, and reinforces racial stereotypes. Those evil Republicans should be thankful that “I Can,” which preaches personal responsibility, is the exception rather than the rule.

Wendell C. Arnold ’96
Newark, Calif.

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