Wondering about “Who” We Are

 

       Upon deciding on the title for this study I wrestled with how to name the racial identity of my students.  I understand that there are stirring reasons as to why we (my students, myself and others) should be called “Black.”  I understand the struggle.  It is hard to identify ourselves with a country that once enslaved us, counted us as no more important than cattle, and still struggles to find a “place” for us here.  It is also hard to identify ourselves with a country that is hundreds of years removed from us and across the waters—Africa.  Baldwin revealed this same struggle when he said, “At the same time I had no other heritage which I could possibly hope to use–I had certainly been unfitted for the jungle or the tribe” (Baldwin, 1955/1998, p. 7).  Yet, it has been through reading this literature of Western culture that I was more compelled to name myself and my students by the space that most reflects some type of cultural root, as flimsy a root it may be. 

 

As the great great grandchild of slaves, I felt drawn to Africa.  When I reflect on my personal history and how I was raised, my first and middle name being Yoruba, and having been raised to embrace my West African roots as much as possible, it is very difficult for me to not name myself “African.”  Also, the school where I taught these students even went so far as to have students wear uniforms made from African material.  For this particular study, those of us who participated in it, share a connection with Africa.  This is one of the reasons their parents chose this school as well.  However, we were all born in America and live within the American culture.  So, we approach these texts as a person of African descent and as an American.  Regardless of how we got here and what that naming may mean with regards to our history, it is how we see ourselves. 

 

            Now that the study has ended, I realize that anyone can approach these books, regardless of how they name themselves.  If they identify more with being Black, connecting mainly to the struggle and power associated with finding our space here in America, a person can see oneself in these texts.  If people identify with being a Person of Color or Asian or Hispanic or Jewish—these books tell the human story, but it is up to individual persons to decipher how these books speak to them and the name they call themselves. This process of bringing our personal selves to the Great Conversation gives us the freedom to name ourselves and to insert that perspective into the Conversation. In doing that we also identify texts of other cultures and races that could be added to this list.  As we find ourselves at the intersection of these books, we are invited to wonder as Socrates compelled us to do, and in wondering together we become unified as the human race, yet we retain our individual selves.  What would happen if there were a school or a classroom or a class session or a workshop or some type of forum where students of all races and backgrounds could come together to share their personal identities with this literature of ancient times? What would happen if as we read the Great Books, we also read the Koran, the Torah, studied the Adinkra symbols, the writings of Khalil Gibran and so many more?  What would we call them then, since they tell the HUMAN story?  The Great Books of Human Civilizations? I wonder…

 

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