Friday, February 18, 2011

Shakespeare and Identity

K started a Shakespeare class at the beginning of the month. When she received this handout, she wanted to color it in. The skin color was important to her and as she searched for the right color of brown, Charles and I smiled at each other. After our last post celebrating racial identity ("I'm African American!") one friend questioned why we would want our children to take pride in being African American "instead of [simultaneously] celebrating their European heritage." To this we have a practical and a personal answer.

The practical answer, the one the President would give, is that she is African American because that is the way that others perceive her. For better or worse, she (and he) have to embrace it or their identity will conflict with how others see them, which would be problematic because our identities are inherently part of our relationships with others. For a long time - and perhaps continuing for some people - any drop of Black blood condemned you to a lesser status in America and beyond. To turn that around and happily point to both identities when in the case of a major success (i.e. winning the presidency) is to short-change the legitimate desire of Black people to celebrate a successful role model.

That said, the President's reasons are currently irrelevant to K's pride; she simply doesn't have the experience to see all of that. She does understand the facts: that African Americans are people whose ancestors come from Africa, which some of hers do. She doesn't see it as being exclusive of also being descended from Swiss, German, Irish, Austrian, or Native American people. She knows that too and to state it would likely seem odd to her since it is so obvious. For me to have modified her pride by pointing out dual racial identity when she made her proud proclamation would have undermined the positive elements of self-identity that everyone needs - and which arguably are especially important for those navigating still-too-present negative racial attitudes.

Similarly, when she gave Shakespeare an identity that she associates with a positive male role model (Dad), being historically accurate was not nearly as important as celebrating her internalized assumptions. She loves Shakespeare's works and knows that they are brilliant; ergo, being a man, he must be identified similarly with the main male role model in her life. For her future identity (and her sister's, of course), I don't care what terms they choose, as long as the choice is made with love and pride.

No comments: