It’s About Character, Not Skin Color

Students Lying on Floor in Classroom.Is America seeing a resurgence of segregation?

It’s not a re-institutionalization of race-specific water fountains or separate-but-equal accommodations that are assigned by skin color, but a sort of self-segregation among black youth that could have a crippling affect on upward mobility.

It’s a variation on the fear of someone “acting white.”

In 2004, a relatively unknown politician named Barack Obama said society should “eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.” Now, it might be a good idea for the President, who appears to be very concerned about employment and class issues, to mention that associating with white people just like he and many other successful blacks have done all their lives is similarly not a refutation of one’s blackness.

In a newly-published study called “Testing the ‘Black Code,’” researchers James D. Johnson of the University of the South Pacific and Leslie Ashburn-Nardo of Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, found that many black students say they tend to lose kinship with other blacks who are perceived to have close relationships with whites.

Having surveyed 212 black college students, Johnson and Ashburn-Nardo reported that “[b]lacks who appear too friendly and comfortable around whites are viewed with suspicion; their blackness is questioned.”

In their technical analysis, they added:

Blacks sometimes strategically imply that they have connections to whites in an effort to increase their probability of success in the corporate world. Doing so may be a means of distancing themselves from negative group stereotypes or perhaps a “disarming mechanism” to enhance their acceptability in the eyes of white employers or colleagues. Regardless of motive, such strategic out-group alignment may put blacks at risk for identity denial from fellow in-group members.

What’s worse, these skeptical students allegedly have “less empathy” for other blacks who are seen as being too chummy with whites to the degree that they would consider not helping these people out should they have a “run of bad luck.”

Essentially, these people are on their own in a jam if they aren’t seen as being “from the ‘hood.”

While the 212 individuals surveyed by Johnson and Ashburn-Nardo are certainly not the voice for all black Americans, it is shameful to see that their mindset is geared towards regressing racial relations instead of improving them. They show a trend, and build on the “acting white” theory that is blamed for poor test scores among many black students.

I’ve been richly blessed in my life to have a very diverse circle of friends. The color of their skin has never been part of a litmus test to decide if I would associate myself with them, but merely by their character and conduct.

Through these associations, I’ve learned a lot about myself, life and been enriched both personally and professionally.

With that in mind, the researchers fear that the introvertive mindset they’ve found could hurt black advancement. Networking outside of one’s race, the survey indicates, could hurt familial and longstanding personal relationships. In order to get along, this stigma might lead to antisocial behavior that keeps otherwise competent and aspiring blacks from moving up in the workforce.

At this time of great concern over wages, advancement and socio-economic mobility, it appears petty resentments within the race could be more of a problem than any perceived racism among workplace managers.

This race-conscious attitude is not a successful practice, nor is it a moral one. I’m glad it has never been thrust upon me, and I pray that those who are affected see their error in it.

I grew up with the realization that the American Dream was achievable with determination and a good work ethic. Now, however, that perception is being tarnished with an unnecessary racial divide suggesting that the authenticity of our skin color is contingent upon the people we associate with.

It is culturally ignorant to suggest blacks or whites are in uniformity when it comes to traditions, customs or whom they accompany themselves with.

Through healthy interaction, people of different races, classes, genders and other demographics learn from one another and develop a greater appreciation for different cultures.

I would point to my friendships and associations as a tribute to my achievements and experiences.

If God is not a respecter of persons, neither should we.

Demetrius Minor is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network. His web site is Demetrius Speaks.

Photo credit: The Tabernacle (Creative Commons)

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