“I am reaching for the words to describe the difference between a common identity that has been imposed and the individual identity any one of us will choose, once she gains that chance” (Jordan 47).
In June Jordan’s essay, “Report from the Bahamas” from the anthology On Call, she addresses the assumptions of identity based on appearance, reflecting on experiences during her vacation and from her home in Brooklyn. Jordan’s musings resonated with me since society does set humans up to associate with those who share the same skin color or eye shape while simultaneously congratulating those who break away from the stereotypic molds we grow into as members of the world.
Jordan mused that the white woman who told her “You’re so lucky,” felt she was not a person because she had fulfilled traditional women’s roles that have dominated white American society from the founding of the colonies until the 1970’s. The same feeling of lack of accomplishment seems true for individuals within racial minority groups. There is a stereotype that Asians excel in the fields of math and science, that they learn to play instruments such as the violin or the piano, that many also play tennis. I happen to do all of these things. While I would not express myself the way Jordan’s student did, I feel I am not member of any progress within my race. I am not a whiz at any of the above mentioned subjects and activities, but I do enjoy them despite the stereotype and I grew up here in the United States, where I was not immersed in Asian culture or influenced by Asian parents. When the mainstream media focuses a lot of attention on stories of underrepresented groups or celebrate people who are working in fields outside what is “typical” for their gender, race or age, it is putting these “achievements” on a pedestal rather than further normalizing them. It seems almost ridiculous that we have to educate people to think outside societal preconceptions. However, if like me, others happen to naturally enjoy what is relegated to their race’s or gender’s stereotype, then they shouldn’t feel guilty about not being a pioneer in an “untraditional” career or activity. If a person does work that is meaningful, strong, and deserving of recognition, then credit should be given where credit is due no matter the race, gender, or age of that person.
Writing about “Olive,” the maid and giving her a rating, Jordan observed “and when these factors of race and class and gender absolutely collapse is whenever you try to use them as automatic concepts of connection” (46). During Thursday’s class, a couple of students mentioned that they feel that society automatically makes assumptions about their connections with others who look like them, I felt I could relate to that experience. In elementary school, the only other Asian (and Chinese) student was a couple years younger than me and without any common sense, classmates would ask me if we were sisters or related by blood in some other way. We did not share the same last name nor we went by our Chinese birth names, but by our given American names. This younger student and I were in fact friends because our parents had made the connection for us, when we were too young to form our own friendships.
However, in sixth grade, I started at a new school, hoping hat I would be more academically challenged and make connections with a more diverse group of people than in my small New England town. Over the summer before entering this place, I found there was another girl from the same region who was in the same class and also adopted from China. Apparently I had taken Mandarin classes with her as a young child but did not remember (the classes did not stick and I was not interested in continuing learning the language. I remember being excited to meet this person, all because family friends who knew her encouraged me to befriend her. I was supposed to meet her at the family friends’ party at the beginning of the summer and kept looking around the corner of the lawn, until I was told she wouldn’t be coming. Disappointed, I waited until the first day of school where I recognized her (even at our private day school in Maine, there still weren’t a lot of racially diverse students) by the lockers. Overcome with a sudden impulse to finally make a connection, I went over and introduced myself, telling her that I knew the mutual family friends. She was tall and dressed to the nines, with a waterfall of ebony hair. The complete opposite of me. This girl glanced over me with a cool, disinterested gaze. The response from her? “That’s nice.” Standing there with my baggy khakis, polo shirt and too-small glasses, I knew instantaneously that no there was no chance of friendship between us. She would seek out the others who shared similarities in socio-economic status and fashion sense, not me for our similar beginnings and ethnicity. I was fine with not being friends with her, and that was that. I did not need to force a connection with this person who clearly had no personal interests that correlated with mine.
Now at Bryn Mawr, I have made a couple of friends who are also Asian, which I feel is more because we have met each other before orientation (one at the Admitted Students event, another who lives in same region of NH as me) and have similar interests. However, I feel that their ethnicity does not define them as individuals and as friends of mine. I am not limiting myself to these people at all, especially in a community as rich as this one. Additionally, the identity I choose for myself is one that just happens to correlate with that which society links with my race, in terms of professional and personal interests. What matters most is that I am true to myself in my personal preferences and relationships, because then it does not matter what society says or does not say about those choices.
June Jordan. "Report from the Bahamas, 1982." Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism. 2003. 39-49. Project MUSE. Web. 4 Sept. 2015. - See more at: /oneworld/changing-our-story-2015/memory-night#sthash.d1pJrl7e.dpuf