It started out as an innocent conversation.
We were in the cubicle area of the law firm where we worked, debating about which team sucked less - the White Sox or the Cubs. Suddenly, Ken told Jeff that only “pansy a—Irishmen still support the Sox.” Everybody laughed.
Somehow, despite me being the only female and only Black on our legal team, my young White male colleagues had always made me feel as if I were “one of the guys”.
“Yep, I am a proud Irishman. Talk sh-t and I’ll blow this b*tch up,” Jeff said in retaliation.
Around the water cooler began a flurry of acknowledgements – each guy proudly boasting his family’s ethnic origins and the countries of their ancestors. Continuously the question, “Where your people from?” was asked, and for a moment I was so caught up in the various countries that were being named that I didn’t realize the magnitude of discomfort that I was about to feel.
Five guys were of Irish descent, three were Welsh, two were German, and one was Hungarian. Everyone was laughing when Jeff turned to me and said, “[Kay] where are your peee…,” trailing off into what spread into an uncomfortable silence.
We all felt embarrassed.
“Mississippi, my dear Irishmen. Where nobody got the memo the Confederacy didn’t win.” I replied. Again, everyone laughed but this concluded our conversation and everyone returned to work.
I wasn’t certain what made me more uncomfortable – the obvious discomfort felt by my White colleagues or the discomfort that I felt because I couldn’t trace my ancestry past the Mississippi Delta.
Before that moment, I hadn’t considered the missing context of my family history. Having gone to a historically Black college, I was obviously well aware of the implications of slavery. I was aware of the annihilation of Black people’s African identity from our collective memories. Yet, what that meant to me, as a young professional, did not take shape until the interaction that I had in the office that day.
Ask a Black person the question “Where is your family from?” and you will likely be met by the following responses:
Decatur…where it’s greata’
Ask Black people about their genetic makeup and we will likely respond with the following:
I’m Black-Black…No White up in here nowhere
I’m Black, but I got Indian in my family…
What are the implications of not knowing your heritage? How does one form a sense of self identity and pride in the presence of an over-arching national culture which asserts its own identify on you?
Unfortunately, you won’t find the answer in today’s blog…
But what you will find is an amazing Livingsocial deal to purchase your own DNA Self Discovery Kit! For only $29, you can discover more about yourself, your family, and your connection to the world. I can’t promise that it will tell you which West-African tribe you belong to, or whether your bloodline is connected with that of Hannibal or Shaka Zulu…but in my humble opinion, it’s worth the money to find out.
[Image courtesy of creatingmotherhood.com]
Filed under: Race