SYNCHROBLOG: We Are The Other

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By Austin Channing | Twitter: @austinchanning

O_Austin-750

Too Black

I grew up immersed in white culture through private education. I attended predominately white schools from preschool through college. Though I successfully navigated the ins and outs of school, there, I was often too black.

My ponytail didn’t move like the other girls. My father was a step ahead of the hairstyle scene, so I was wearing cornrows the decade before they became super popular again. My hair choices regularly confounded those around me, and I quickly learned to dodge wandering fingers touching my hair without permission.

I was called a nigger and told I look like a monkey. My parents taught me to never place my hands in my pockets or in a purse after touching something on a store shelf and to always hold my receipt until I’ve made it safely to the parking lot. Along with driving lessons came a tutoring session in dealing with the police.

I was questioning what we learned in history class and used every opportunity I could (book report, art project, research paper) to study black history. I learned that I had a choice growing up, I could give the answers teachers were hoping to receive or I could risk the F and speak my truth (ie- Christopher Columbus discovered America? Nope.) Though I succeeded in school, that success was not indicative of sameness. I was regularly negotiating my identity and establishing demands for respect.

It is a negotiation that continues as I move through America. Reactions to my person can be completely normal or quite startling. I never know which until I show up, but as I navigate white spaces there is always negotiation, always a pinch or a punch of otherness.

Too White

Because I attended predominately white schools, my parents worked really hard to reflect myself back to me through books, history lessons and music, but like many parents they missed a crucial component—pop culture. When I was, for the first time, immersed in black culture at summer camp, I had a number of realizations:

I didn’t know how to do the tootsie roll or any line dance besides the electric slide.

I didn’t have an opinion on whether or not Whitney should’ve married Bobby because —I didn’t know who New Edition was. I was forced to mouth the words to “Weak” when the whole bus broke out in song on the way to the community pool.

I didn’t know what was supposed to happen after I whispered “Candyman” into the mirror five times, so I just mimicked the screams of the other girls. My slang was as old as my parents.

Some kids ignored my existence since I didn’t live in the neighborhood, but others were only too happy to point out my otherness. I heard the common slights, being called an Oreo (white on the inside, black on the outside) and was told I talk white. But typically my feelings were not hurt by the words of others because I was always my biggest critic. It was my own feelings of otherness that hurt the most. My own disappointment in not knowing all the black things.

But I learned. And as I learned, I was welcomed. Sometimes I even surprised myself—the butterfly came far more naturally than I expected. I almost won our summer contest on who could do it best!

Deceptively Female

Though there are many Austins in the world, I learned pretty early in life that the name is typically reserved for white males. I was not aware of this rule as a child and often bore the brunt of questioning stares when my brown hand shot in the air during roll call. The older I became, the more startled a response I received.

For the most part people pause to consider my name and decide my parents are brilliant. But every now and then. Every now and then someone will decide I have deceived them and lash out in ways that are rude and painful. They thought a white male would be leading the trip, and I have deceived them. They thought a white male would be teaching, and I have deceived them. They thought a white male would be coming to the interview, and I have deceived them.

But I have learned to wear my name with confidence, to resist the reflections of others—good or bad. I have determined to love the tension my name creates without letting that tension define who I am. Reactions are not mine to own, but reflections of the person before me.

I have been considered too white. I have been considered too black. I have been considered deceptively female. If I kept writing, I imagine I could come up with many more ways of being “othered” because there are so many identities we negotiate and navigate every day.

It isn’t just me.

These experiences are not mine alone.

And that’s why it’s so important to listen to the voices at the margins.

Because our experiences are not just isolated moments when the world turned upside down in our individual lives. They speak to a larger narrative of trauma being experienced around our identities, our bodies, our personhood.

These stories remind us that the trauma continues until we succeed in becoming radically inclusive people of God.

So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the ways we have felt less than and the ways we have been told we are less than. Let’s ask how our society reinforces who is in and who is out. Let’s ask ourselves how we participate, how our friends participate or even how our church participates in othering.

Won’t you share?

JOIN THE SYNCHROBLOG:

We’re inviting you, our readers and friends, and as many people as we can reach, to share your experience of being “othered” or of “othering,” via a link-up. This is a place of grace—no judgement—we want to hear your hearts and stand with you. 

Do you have a story you feel is important to share? Simply write your post, publish it to your usual blog or site, and then come back to add the link to this post, using the form below. (Remember to copy and paste the link to the specific blogpost and not the link to your homepage.) We also hope you’ll read and comment on the other posts too, especially the person right before and after you on the link-up. 

Can’t wait to read your posts!

XOXO

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About Austin: 

AustinI am a resident director and multicultural liaison at Calvin College where I manage a dormitory for 240 students. Its pure joy actively participating in the development of students as they become leaders. Prior to this position, I worked in Chicago, focusing on racial reconciliation and socioeconomic understanding. I have a bachelor’s degree from North Park University and a master’s degree in social justice from Marygrove College. I’m pretty obsessed with books and bookstores. After 5 years of marriage, my husband, Tommie, still makes me laugh harder than anyone else in the world. Its really exciting to be writing regularly on my blog austinchanning.com and over at Todays Christian Woman.

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Image credit: Erin

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