Today I made a salon appointment and had my hair cut, colored, and highlighted. For me, this is normal. I like to experiment with my hair length and color. In the past my hair has been purple and I’ve also cut it close to my head with letters shaved into the back, and that was just to win a college scavenger hunt. The point is that, while I like my hair, it’s not intrinsically linked to who I am or how I fit into my culture. But for some people it is. It’s all a part of identity and what makes an identity, whether it be individual or cultural.
Last week in class we read Lorrain Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. It was my week to write a presentation blog so I wrote about an organization in Tennessee called Hattiloo and linked it with Hansberry’s work in terms of creating a Black identity. But I think I may have missed the target just a little because I was considering Black identity from a White person’s perspective. So what is Black identity? Can it be linked to a defining haircut like the character of Beneatha in Hansberry’s play? Sure it can, but does that make it Black specific? Just because I don’t put a lot of stock in my hair doesn’t mean that another White girl doesn’t.
The difficulty for me is in unpacking the term Black identity as a white person. I can learn about various habits or social norms that are intrinsically linked to a black community, but I’m not sure that really means I understand the depths and essence of being black. Are those things ever really able to be learned, except artificially? I feel like identity is such a personal thing that try as we might the only identity we’ll really full comprehend is our own. I think identity doesn’t just come from the culture we are from or the way we’re raised, but also from the choices we make in everyday of our lives. That’s how I feel I can best relate to people, whether they are black, white, rich, poor, or anything in between.
Just this week we had the privilege of speaking to Dr. Clem Price, who is on the Advisory Board for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He talked about how they’ve decided to tell a narrative that is common to all American people, but do so through the lens of the African American. It’s not that I don’t agree with the idea it just becomes a question of identity for me. Is this way of telling the African American story in the United States a concession to identity or is it trying to create a universal identity? I’m not sure. I’ll definitely be interested to see the museum when it opens. All I know is that when the National Museum of American History doesn’t want to share the Greensboro Lunch Counter with the National Museum of African American History and Culture there’s definitely a larger question of identity at work. So my answer to the question of identity? Identity is personal and often not able to be unpacked without some misinterpretations and misunderstandings along the way, but that doesn’t mean that if we listen, watch, and learn that we won’t be able to understand the finer nuances another person’s identity.