I grew up poor in a poor neighborhood in a city where most people looked like me and went to the local, bad public school system. Most of these people were involved with drugs and crime in some form or another and did not see college or 9 to 5 jobs as being a part of their future. Their world was encompassed in their neighborhood and the periodic trip to the downtown area of our city was considered a treat. These individuals’ group conscious is heightened at different times in different arenas but does not usually venture beyond race. Most people in Trenton, New Jersey (where I’m from) see themselves primarily as being from a particular geographic region of the city (North, South, East, or West) and then a particular subgroup of that region (i.e. the Wilbursection area of East Trenton or the Chambersburg area of South Trenton), possibly. Consciousness as a resident of Trenton and city-wide pride are rarely issues since real interaction with people who aren’t from Trenton is rare. The personal identification of oneself as being a resident of Trenton is looked down upon by most people from other parts of New Jersey (esp. here at Harvard.). Everytime I introduce myself to someone here that’s from Jersey and they ask me where I’m from I say Trenton. Obviously. Despite the negative or surprised and uncomfortable reactions that I get (not to mention stupid questions like “do people get shot a lot in your neighborhood?”), my identification as a Trentonian is unwavering. If only more people here were more comfortable with their personal identifications, whether positive or otherwise, what a Harvard that would be.
People who identify themselves as being of a particular racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group should strive to understand the common experiences of their people. Identification as a Black person in the U.S., for example, requires an understanding of the common experience that Black people have in this country and, to a large extent, this is not the Harvard experience. Black people in the U.S. aren’t able to swipe plastic cards and enter ornate dining halls with buffets of food three times a day. Black people in the U.S. aren’t able to live in rooms where heat is very rarely a problem in the cold winter months and things such as light, gas, and water bills are not combined with other living expenses to constitute a monthly struggle to remain housed and alive. Black people in the U.S., generally, do not take time to meet with one another and discuss their problems as a COMmunity disunited and aim to address this DISunity in order to socially network. We are extremely fortunate Black people at Harvard. Despite wherever we came from we are now “the elite”. This is something I continue to struggle with during my time here at Harvard since I really don’t consider myself above my racial peers not at this institution. More fortunate, yes, but elite connotes something that I can’t quite articulate though makes me feel detached from the overwhelming majority of those who I consider “my people”.
I propose a new practice: either you identify with the ideology and aims of the people in the group you seem to be a part of (and actively work towards those aims) or you de-identify with the group and assimilate into another. Black people? I say we expel those “members” of our race who are actively working with those individuals, corporations, government bodies, etc. who build themselves on the exclusion of our people from the benefits of their little game of life. Poor people? I say we stop spending money on buying our babies Michael Jordan’s sneakers and take our labor away from the McDonald’s, Harvard’s, and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s of the world who are gettng filthy rich off of our arduous work. Radicals? I say we stop talking about making drastic social, political, and economic change and develop a cohesive plan to actually do so. For real. In the grand scheme of things, after my life goals are accomplished, none of these classifications would even matter. Black, poor, and radical would lose all meaning since race wouldn’t be a means of classifying individuals (a highly subjective and varying one at that), financially poor people wouldn’t exist since the concept of material wealth wouldn’t exist, and radical would not be slander. It would be how everyone thought and acted as compared to the current violent, competitive, and biased system people now operate under.