I was having a conversation about privilege the other day for Catalyst, an organization I’m involved in here on campus. We were first asked to list tv shows with predominately white casts, then those with casts predominately filled by people of color. Almost every group completed the first list with ease; and, almost every group compiled the second with some sort of struggle. Only people of color knew the shows, they were on lesser known networks with lesser known actors, they were only known by older people (i.e. from the 90’s “black tv boom”), they had to be qualified (only the lead is ethnic, does that count? there’s one or two ethnic characters, does that count?). The most impactful part of the discussion was when me and my friend, who is also mixed, discussed not having media based role models growing up. Especially with channels like Disney and Nickelodeon, especially because of our young age being suited to only specially tailored adolescent programs–we were left looking up to these white children who did nothing to help us explore or embrace our own identity.
This came into play while reading Caswell’s “Seeing Yourself in History”. Before even beginning the piece I thought about how much of a privilege this could be percieved to be. Knowing everything about your ancestors for generations and generations into the past. Knowing that they came to this country forcelessly, dreams in hand, rather than due to oppression, discrimination or violence. Knowing that, for the most part, what you read about them could be generally assumed true–not fabricated or altered to protect, superimpose or glorify those in power.
It happened when Gerda Lerner wrote women into history, it happened for Caswell and his partner Mallick when exploring South Asian history. I was shocked to see the statistics on “symbolic annihilation” of South Asians in American history, especially when there are over 3.5 million people of South Asian descent in the United States. My favorite part of the piece was when Caswell discussed how SAADA encourages “microhistory” projects, which encourage local organizations and people of South Asian descent to record, share and digitize their personal experiences. Having such a breadth of information after having none is almost miraculous in modern terms of redefining white and heteronormative American culture.
Being biracial, it’s interesting to know more about one parent’s lineage than the other. This made me think about whether or not part of me is really “lost” to the atmosphere. Are any of you without history, in part or in full? Do you feel different about your identity not knowing where you come from? What if you never knew your parents or they never knew theirs? How does that change how you perceive, explore or embrace your own identity?