AssimulateIn a time when a lot of my peers were being named Keisha (by far the most popular black girl name of the 1970s and beyond), they named me Danielle. They had a lot of reasons for choosing the name “Danielle.” Both my parents’ names began with “D”  so they were giving all their kids “D” names. My mother thought I just “looked” like a Danielle when I popped out of her yoo-hoo. And also they wanted me to assimilate.

Assimilate is a dirty word for me because in reference to black people surviving in America it’s both necessary and completely worthless all at the same time. Necessary as in, having the name Danielle Belton could mean my resume didn’t immediately go into the garbage when they were screening out all the Keishas that day, but futile because I started a site called “blacksnob.com” and it’s on my resume along with me being a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. Never mind all the black publications I’ve written and worked for. So everything about my resume screams BLACK LADY even if my parents tried to turn me into some racial Terminator, stealthy moving about society, showing up at job interviews all “SURPRISE BLAKC GIRL!”

You can name me Danielle, but you can still see I’m black.

And I can straighten my hair for the job interview so I can seem more “approachable” or whatever straight hair is supposed to mean, but you can still see I’m black.

And I can speak the King’s English, dress posh and throw my college degree and upper middle class background around and … that’s nice and all, but you can still see I’m black.

Assimilation is the greatest and most important waste of time any black person will ever engage in. Because it essentially means spending your life anticipating someone else’s prejudices, then trying to modify your behavior to prove you’re a special, different, extraordinary Negro, not to be confused with Lil Wayne or the guy on the evening news who rammed a car in to a hair weave store and ran off with $10,000 worth of Indian Remy.

But what good does it really do? A random black woman you do not know “gets loud” in line at the store and the store is full of white folks and you. And some of those white folks, they look at you like you know some special Negro Whisperer magic that can make this woman stop acting a fool. And you’re like, what? You don’t know that woman. What are you supposed to do? Avoid eye contact with everyone and experience secondary embarrassment and wonder why on Earth do you have to feel responsible for the strange loud black woman you don’t even know? What does she have to do with you? Maybe they messed up her order? Maybe she has every right to be mad? But you want her to shut up, if only because someone keeps looking at you and you are not the Negro Whisperer.

Assimilation is sort of this way to say, “No wait, but I’m cool” to white people who may or may not be prejudiced against black people. But it almost never works the way it should. It never goes “Oh, Danielle is nice. I bet most black people are just regular human beings and stuff.” It always goes, “Danielle is nice. She must be magic and special unlike the rest of those crazy black people who frighten me.” But I am not magic, nor am I special. I am just wearing some straight hair, King’s English camouflage. If you turn on the song “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe I’m just as likely to shout, “OH SNAP, THAT’S MY JAM” and start dancing like any other person who has an affinity for such music.

I’m still black.

Racism has played some pretty horrible tricks on black people but the worst is the one that teaches you that if you just modify your behavior, if you just dress, talk, walk, act differently, the doors will open and the prejudices will melt away, but that’s a lie. The prejudices stay the same, but your individual treatment might slightly improve. For example, the President of the United States can’t say bluntly anything about race and he has the nuclear launch codes. Somehow, for certain white folks, the potential of blowing up another country is less controversial than admitting racism still exists in America. Why? Because President Obama has to assimilate. Yet, for what? All you ever hear from racists are fried chicken and watermelon jokes and how he’s such an “urban” president and how his obviously not overweight wife is “fat.” For all the good assimilation has done to get him where he’s gotten in life (it got him all the way to the White House!), at the end of the day he still might as well wear a doo-rag and smoke a Newport on the South lawn because he’s not fooling anyone.

They can still see you’re black. They can still see we’re all black. And yet we try and try and try.

Nice work, racism.

87 Comments

  1. As a “liberal” white person I’m always trying to examine ways I could be racist or prejudiced without “knowing it”. I think a lot of upper class or liberal white people think they couldn’t possibly be racist because they associate that with white trash/hillbillies…a lot of educated white friends of mine make racist jokes, but say it’s not racist because “they obviously aren’t racist.” Um dude you just made a racist joke, but hokay. I think they all need to examine that about themselves because nasty things can seep in accidentally!

    I hope I’ve never treated a Black person “differently” because they were assimilated or considered them “special” for that reason–if I have, I feel bad about it. But one thing I do know is that at my private school, we had a lot of Black students, and their friends (white and Black) would joke that they were “Oreos” because they spoke with proper grammar or God forbid they genuinely enjoyed music that wasn’t hip-hop. I’m not sure if it bothered them, but it really bothered me that speaking like that was automatically assumed to be a “white” thing or that they were somehow betraying their race by reading literature or being grammar nerds. And moreover I feel like since I’m not Black, there’s just so much about their experiences (all different, of course) that I’ll never understand even if I try!

    For now, all I can do is check myself when I think I might be thinking the wrong stuff, if I do, keep reading stuff that helps me learn about other people’s experiences, and of course, treat everyone kindly.

  2. HeadStrongChic

    After reading this article and the proceeding posts, and being white I’m not sure how I feel about posting. But here it goes. I liked the article for the insight, as many people have issues with assimilation and can’t fight against injustice because it’s very dynamic. I agree with white liberal above in that I don’t understand why speaking with intelligence means black or white. I just don’t. Nor do I think it’s assimilation to do so. As white person, I have a tendency to speak different also, but clean it up with people I don’t know. In reality, “more off’n I speak like this, ’bout the time I realize ‘m doin’ it I don feel like it’s wrong, just comfortable.” Anyhow, speech is like clothing. You were your jammy’s at home and a suit to an interview. I saw a comment way back there about some gregory guy saying it’s easy to fool white people. All I have to say to that is, I’m sorry if you feel the need to do that. I understand there’s discrimination, but truly, it exists on both sides if that quote alone isn’t proof of that. Also, blacks won’t be the minority for long. Places like Cincinnati. OH are almost 50/50 now. And it’s estimated that in 60 years about half the population will have some tracings to Hispanic decent. Heck, my husband is hispanic and he’ll be the reason for breeding one more line of red heads lol.

    Do I want equality? Hell yes. I had a partner in Chemistry whom I hadn’t thought one way or another about. I knew she wasn’t happy to work with me because her sister didn’t get in the class when she crashed like she did. I don’t know how often this happens but it really upset me. She had me doing all the work, she literally fell asleep in lab. Now, one day she was talking to another guy who was worried about his grades. She said “Oh don’t worry, we don’t have to work as hard as white people, we can get in the same schools and programs with C’s if we want since we are black.” She also asked to cheat off my stuff. The worst thing about this discrimination, is people using it as a crutch. She could have learned her stuff, I even offered to help her study because I wanted to help rather then just give her the answers and she stood me up. I even drove her as an emergency somewhere and I had to say your welcome first, and never got a thank you. Thanks is not white, it’s common decency. As for music, white people will start screamin’ and dancing when they hear the Honky tonk Badonkadonk song, (well not me unless I’m with friends because I’m WAY too shy). We aren’t the same no, and we all have our rotten apples. I wish it were easier than needing to assimilate.

    But, I sincerely believe it’s a failure on both sides. My husband got into a program that was made for minorities to get opportunities in the science field. If you were black, hispanic, pacific islander or indian you could get into the program for the internship and experience with a 2.5. They had a clause for whites whose parents hadn’t attended college but they could only get in if they had a 3.5. I could NOT find an internship anywhere, I had straight A’s and was/am poor as heck. He felt bad because he saw that injustice. I cry when I get a B because I know it can make or break me if I get to many if I want to get into a good program or school. But he only has to worry about C’s because of affirmative action. In the case of college and programs (not jobs as the tables turn here), I would LOVE to put I’m black or hispanic, but in the end once they see me, I am still white and my 3.0 isn’t good enough. And I deserve to break my back to make it, because my ancestors who worked in cole mines and farms wronged the world somehow. Are white people privileged, perhaps. But there are FAR FAR more programs to help minorities up then there’s credit given for, and in some ways more opportunities to get an education because of it.

    The other day I took a bike ride down a neighborhood that I’d considered moving into, but I was warned not to go there because it’s dangerous (white people racism), but I was curious because the prices were lower than most areas and the buildings looked nice and were located along a river. Oh the looks I got, I’ve never felt so unwelcome (black people racism). In high school: “white gurl you gotta black ass!” Why’s it gotta be black? Can’t it just be mine? “Whatchyou know about this song?” Can’t I enjoy it just like you do?

    It’s gotta stop on both sides. I won’t move into a black neighborhood because they don’t want me there, and trust me I don’t like living on ramen and stew because I have to pay an extra 200 bucks to be in a “white” neighborhood. Not because I don’t want to be around them. I don’t avoid them, more than half my friends are not white (and by not white I mean of all races not just black). In saying that, I realize I sound like a typical white person “Well, I have a black friend so I’m not racist.” Categorizing white people like that is racist too. When I saw the dumb white people bingo card for reactions to the martin case I was the square where the “white women cry”, “violence doesn’t solve anything”, “riots”, and everything in between. And much to my dismay my BEST friend posted it (which is a ironic because she racist against blacks and she is one). As for getting a job between school years, I looked for 6 months before I got an interview or two. I ended up being a maid, even though I have administrative experience in the Navy, and countless other abilities and qualifications. That’s not a race issue in totality, it’s an economy issue.

    I won’t pretend to understand, because I can’t understand. I know that.
    I guess I just wish it were different. All of it.

    (I apologize if I offended anyone in advance)

    • White liberal above here :) I don’t think there is any significant unfairness toward whites. Internships are crapshoots- I never had good grades but I got jobs just fine. A lot of it is luck. Also, you can’t deny that Blacks are unemployed/homeless far more than whites…implying that even if there is prejudice on both sides, it significantly harms Blacks more.

    • whiteprivilegestillexists

      Your post is so full of condescending jibberish. Is Stormfront closed for business? Why are you here on an intelligent site for black women? Actually, I am going to guess here that you are not white. I don’t know any white people as clueless as you appear to be. Are you a black poster/troll pulling a fast one? Conveniently, you don’t mention the black people who have to be 3 times as good just to get through the door? I have seen white applicants get things with much less credentials than I had but that doesn’t interest you right? Anyone who warns you before they post or say something that they may not be the right person to say such a thing is in fact always the wrong person to say such a thing. You are the wrong person to make a comment on this topic now shoo! Go on, shoo. You’re simple.

    • This is why we can’t have a “national conversation.” As soon as a black person disagrees with a white person, the nazi Stormfront references come out. White people will do fine without the Conversation, and as long as this is the price, it’s not worth it from the white perspective. Better to just ignore it.

    • dashawnlaquitashaqarn

      PHELPS: Who cares so black people wont do fine without them in the conversation either? This person claims job discrimination is nto a racial thing. Are you kidding me? Look at the statistics and look at the hiring practices of your white friends etc and tell me it is not. Phelps whether you agree with me or not, history, statistics and current research overwhelmingly supports the fact that white men (not white women) white men get benefits in hiring ALL the time.

  3. LadyDove

    Nice article. I feel your pain and willingness to fight the good fight. Dr. Frances Cress Welsing once said (and I am paraphrasing) if you don’t understand what racism is, all of its manifestations will just confuse and upset you. I highly recommend her book “The Isis Papers” for an excellent take on assimilation and related topics. Peace.

  4. labudich

    Yes, speech is, in a way, like clothing, and one changes it according to where she is, according to whom she is addressing. But what is at stake here is a power dynamic, where some kinds of speech and some cultural identities are clearly seen as inferior to others, not merely different. I am white. But I can speak of this from the perspective of a white migrant, and the experience of immigration makes it somewhat easy to understand what the author of this article is referring to and to fully sympathise with her. Immigrants come to the US and are offered “opportunities” that they have to be grateful for in the eyes of their hosts. But the price of these opportunities is the erasure of their culture and identity. And immigrants agree to this, more so if they plan to, like the author of this article, get a good college education, get a good job, to live a middle class life. Assimilating, melting into the “melting pot,” normally, does not mean, for example, adopting black culture, which is also American, and at that has an amazing tradition, or hispanic culture, but the culture of the white establishment, which stands for “American values” that American exceptionalism glorifies and celebrates. When I came to America, my hosts first pointed out that my, pretty clumsy, English better than that of half the country, meaning the blacks. At the time I was happy about that, without questioning the weird notion, and happy to integrate into white middle-class culture, eager to “make it” in life. But, like the author, I was never really accepted and considered exotic, at best, because of my name and my accent. So it was about my own social-climbing effort to leave my culture behind, to erase any memory of my cultural belonging, and the awareness of total futility of that effort. I am white, and my kids, unlike blacks have the opportunity to become “normal” whites, especially if they change or simplify their names. I am white, so I do not bear the burden of centuries of harassment. But I also see that we are having cultural homogenisation where everybody, in the end, mimics the white upper class, or do we want a multicultural America, which would be culturally rich and in which all kinds of “speech” are equal, and one does not have to be ashamed of their culture. This would mean, for example, bilingual education. A respect for “other” cultures, where one does not need to be ashamed of her origins. Curiosity for cultural difference, rather than dismissal. And, in recognition of blacks and their contribution to American culture, a situation in which so-called “ebonics” are recognised as one of the legitimate variants of the English language and taught in school as such. Go Danielle!

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