Racial Sellouts

Earlier in the semester, we discussed how, to be accepted into the white society, many prominent black figures have had to compromise aspects of their blackness. We named people like Barack Obama and Oprah, who have had to “soften” lots of the statements they have made and actions they have taken when racial politics are concerned. They have had to mold themselves to be white enough (through speech, dress, associations) for racist America to be comfortable with them holding power. They are forced to be both white enough and black enough to be a bridge between white and black communities. As we discussed while reading The History of White People, the definition of who is considered white is constantly expanding. If people of color are exceptionally talented or good looking or successful, they can often gain certain societal privileges normally reserved only for white people. Is it their fault that they have to give up their full identity expression as people of color to garner a level of success that doesn’t force (many) white people to sacrifice their identities as white people? I can’t fault them. It’s the fault of white supremacy and domination. At the same time, I know many people of color feel a responsibility to keep their cultural identities current and with them, while succeeding in a world that praises whiteness. My mother is what many people would call “whitewashed” because that is what her parents believed she needed to succeed. And successful she has been, but not at the expense of her own sense of blackness, and ultimately not at the expense of black people as a whole. This is a balance that constantly preoccupies people of color, even those privileged with opportunities to enter into elite society.

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One thought on “Racial Sellouts

  1. I think it is very interesting that you mentioned your mother’s success and mentioned her being “whitewashed”. My dad is viewed the same way. A lot of his friends say he’s white, or an “Uncle Tom” because he wears a suit to work everyday and speaks properly. It is a shame that wanting to act professionally, or wanting to carry yourself in a respectable manner, is perceived to be “less black” or white. My problem with this is twofold. Firstly, white people have been able to create the standard for right and wrong, for professional and unprofessional, for acceptable and unacceptable. They have been able to set a standard and create the criteria for what is needed to achieve success. Any deviations from this standard are considered unsuccessful, or not up to par. Secondly, I am disappointed in minorities that judge other minorities for trying to achieve success. One should not be looked down upon for trying to better themselves, even if it means conforming to do so. It is not the individual’s fault that they did not set the standard and they should not be at fault for meeting it if it means being what they view as successful.

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