Park your ethnicity.
I heard a White female professor at a United States university state this concept, more in the vein of, “Can’t we just park our ethnicity for a moment?” I paraphrase, but that was the gist of her expression, along with the notion that we should stop talking about BIPOC realities and get on with the shared activity of higher education.
The statement was made earlier in the fall, but the phrase often circles back into my mind. It does so even though several people – White and Black – explained to me that the professor did not mean anything negative by her statement.
I understand that she did not on the surface, but the systemic nature of racism in the US also comes to light. The phrase does not consider that BIPOCs cannot – ever—park their ethnicity, even if they attempt to. In my view, they may think they have parked it and saunter through society with the belief that nobody sees them as BIPOC, but that is an illusion. If you are a BIPOC, one’s ethnicity is either labeled, assumed, presumed, or surmised when one walks through US society regardless of where you parked and how much you paid for that parking. Often, whatever ethnicity you actually may be assumed to be is way off the mark.
PARK YOUR ETHNICITY.
Let’s reflect on what that illuminates in contemporary times in the US.
I picture a parking lot far away from any predominantly White institution or business where BIPOCs who want to survive (dare I say succeed) in the US mainstream “park” their ethnicity. (Note that this parking lot has not been provided by the mainstream; rather, it was born out of BIPOC aspiration and resignation to US racial convention.) There is no tram to take the parkers from the outlying lot; one must walk a distance to arrive at the mainstream. One usually cannot pace one’s walk or you will fall behind (this is akin to the BIPOC parents’ caution that a BIPOC must give 300 percent effort to a White person’s 100 percent effort to succeed in the US mainstream). One must walk fast, perhaps even run. Doors of the mainstream close quickly and some never open. If you perspire, it will be hailed as innately characteristic of some BIPOCs.
Once one arrives at the threshold of the US mainstream, one must slip in without breaking the stride of the many non-BIPOC people who see you as competition, or see you as someone who got in the door simply because of their color and not because of aptitude that has nothing to do with ethnicity. Of course, the irony is that, given US enslavement of Black people and the systemic racism that remains entrenched in our institutions and businesses today (and the unavoidable fact that many US businesses benefited economically due to years of free enslaved Black labor, benefits that are still enriching the lives of their descendants today), many non-BIPOCs have advanced and succeeded in the US mainstream because of their color, because they do not have BIPOC melanin (unless they are investing time in tanning).
So, the BIPOC is in the door and it is time to give 300 percent. The BIPOC is challenged by the fact that one must accept things as they are and never raise a question, or the BIPOC will be seen through the view of non-BIPOC expectations and labeled as an angry (not assertive) individual. This not only will emanate from non-BIPOCs, but also from within the BIPOC community. For example, a Native American may exert this view against a Black individual or a Black individual may exert this view towards an Asian American (or vice versa). Moreover, the BIPOC is challenged by the fact that a high sum was paid to park in the outlying lot and the BIPOC may be worrying about how to pay the bills for essential needs (is parking one’s ethnicity essential in today’s US?). In addition, the BIPOC may consider the fact that, after exhibiting 300 percent, the BIPOC must walk back to that distant lot where ethnicity was parked. This is the work day that never ends.
I know. Many non-BIPOCs are thinking: “But it was hard for me to get in the door, too!” and “But I give 300 percent, too!” or “But the parking fees are high for me, too!” However, just think about how harder it might be if you were visibly a person of color (I say “visibly” because some BIPOCs are White-appearing and, therefore, have an easier time navigating the US mainstream because they are assumed by non-BIPOCs to be White and they get to “park” in the non-BIPOC parking lot, which, even if it is expensive, does not cost the individual as much as it costs the BIPOC who must park their ethnicity in the margins).
Here is an example of how a Black male is affected by this mentality. In New York City, I sought to hail a taxi with a Black male friend. This college-educated, intelligent, and kind man told me that he would conceal himself in the shadowy doorway of a store so that I could hail the taxi alone. He explained that taxis often to do not stop to pick up Black male customers. Finding this appalling in any way, but particularly in the twenty-first century, I nevertheless followed his instructions and hailed the taxi alone. A White male taxi driver pulled over to pick me up and I opened the back door. However, the minute my friend stepped forward to join me, the taxi driver sped off, nearly taking my arm with him.
In the US mainstream, non-BIPOC businesses and institutions tend to hand-pick a few BIPOCs that they invite as highly marginalized members of the White Privilege Club (WPC) (this seems reminiscent of the house versus the field Blacks during US enslavement of Black people). Once non-BIPOCs select those few, others often are ignored or considered to be complainers who “play the race card” and who only need to look at the BIPOCs in their WPC to comprehend that, if they tried hard enough or were smart enough, they, too, could be part of the club.
When George Floyd was murdered, many earth citizens noticed (for the first time?) that BIPOC people were relegated to a different parking lot than they. This realization astounded me because this was so painfully obvious – a massive elephant in the room that could only be unobserved if one chose to do so. Looking the other way has to be a strategy in such a case.
So, now the US mainstream has provided a tram from the BIPOC parking lot to the US mainstream. It does not move very fast and the roads it travels are rather bumpy (hence, the continuation of police murder of unarmed Black people), but, for the first time, some earth citizens genuinely are not looking away and wanting to do something. What that something is or should be creates consternation, stress, and trial and error. I understand; it is not easy. However, it is long overdue.
It is my hope that this more broadminded thinking leads to the closure of the outlying lots or even the desire that one needs to park their ethnicity. It is my hope that it creates an environment in which BIPOCs do not have to park their ethnicity in order to exist in the US mainstream, that they can exist in the mainstream and be able to be who they are – including ethnically – and still participate fully. For example, why is a vice president not simply a vice president rather than an Asian and Black vice president? Why is an architect not simply an architect instead of a good Asian American architect? It is my hope that people will be able to be people instead of being seen as BIPOC first and human beings second.
These are my wishes for the racial pandemic that has slithered and rampaged through US society my entire life.
I fear, however, that this broadmindedness will be short-lived. This view was affirmed for me when I saw in the recent US presidential election how politically divided the US population is (another unsurprising elephant, right?).
This also has been affirmed by goings-on that I have observed, sometimes firsthand, in US academia. For example, three university leaders dismissed a prominent professor as an angry ______ (fill in the blank with BIPOCs who are visibly darker than Whites) due to that professor’s questioning of issues related to systemic racism. One of the leaders defended his Southern upbringing, positioning it as a reason to prove he is not racist.
However, we all are in one way or another. Denial or dodging of that reality is simply a cry for help.
Let us hope together.
1 – “parking lot 3013-06-27” by Paul-W is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/. Web. www.creativecommons.org. D/L November 12, 2020 @ https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/8145efad-f431-4407-98ec-2c133f6e044c.
2 – “parking lot” by Dean Hochman is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/. Web. www.creativecommons.org. D/L November 12, 2020 @ https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/4ae88b82-531d-41a8-9e99-eee7b712f4eb.
3 – “Chain Link Fence” by You As A Machine is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/. Web. www.creativecommons.org. D/L November 12, 2020 @ https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/02a7e481-3078-481c-9910-dc5653da914c.
4 – “Due to strong winds please close doors sign, Nature Magazine, Camden, London, UK” by gruntzooki is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/. Web. www.creativecommons.org. D/L November 12, 2020 @ https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/92282f4e-a153-47f6-be97-283c4711ed68.