To Assimilate or Not: The Black Person’s Lament

by Danielle C. Belton

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.

  • My father’s Child

    my daddy gave me the best advice in 7th grade when i tried the one time to fit in “child never rise up to someone else’s standard, as soon as you reach it they will raise it up or flip the game on you,and you will be running like a checkend without a head trying to fit/ be what you are not, on the other hand if you fit the bill naturally either through your interest or drive then it is your standards and your choices driving you and no amount of raising the bar will affect your vision” I will tell you this advice has helped me a great deal in life, it did go to my head at the time as a teen and rebelliously did me wherever/whenever, but now as an adult it serves me, I am not moved eitherway or chasing after acceptance/affirmation from people or organizations that do not care about me or my kind, Thanks Baba you still are the best!!

  • Joan

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…proof that the best art stirs the emotions. Great piece. LMAO.

  • ImJustSaying

    I just applied for a job and the race question was optional. I thought I would skip the question as a “why do they need to know I’m black? My resume is the only thing that matters.” After reading this I wonder if I wanted to hide the fact that I was black. I hate that we fall into these “respectability” lines of thinking. Also the “othering” of “ghetto” black people versus “dignified” blacks. Nope you’re just stuck up. I include myself in the stuck up category from time to time but i’m getting better at checking myself.

  • dirtychai

    “Assimilation is the greatest and most important waste of time any black person will ever engage in.”

    How many of us learn this the hard way?

  • rebecca

    Love it! Very funny.

    I think this is important becuase through media brainwashing we are built to believe that if we do a,b,c,d,e,f,g….and z we will have the good graces of white people, when that is just not true.

    Also, this “she is not like the rest of them” treatment isnt something we should seek because we are all the damn same. When I first started my internship at a corporate office I completely code switched and assimilated until I realized that at the end of the day Im still black as hell! I will change for no one.

  • rebecca

    When I say “we are all the damn same” i meant to say they all see us as “black”.

  • http://gravatar.com/rastaman1967 rastaman

    I have met a lot of black folks unfortunately who have come to believe that because of their education, material gains or jobs they have trancended being black in America and are therefore somehow immune to be victimized by racism. Their view is that one of the major causes of black underachievement is that too many of us see ourselves as victims and therefore we unconsciously behave in that manner. I say they are wrong. Wrong because it puts the onus to change on the those being victimized without fully addressing the role of the perpetrators, white people.

    I cannot stop being black, it is not a behavior. Being a racist is a behavior and it can be changed. You may never consider me your equal or deserving because of the color of my skin but once it informs your behavior, you are being racist. I sincerely believe that a majority of white Americans have some form of prejudice against black folks. I believe so because even though the overt perpetrators are a minority, the majority is not concerned enough and have no desire to change. It afterall has benefited them for 500 years and counting.

    “Racism is as American as apple pie”

  • Lauren

    Well said! The fact that White people can choose not to even think about inequality or injustice keeps racism alive. White privilege sucks!

  • http://deereeder.wordpress.com deereeder

    Excellent topic, thoughtfully and humorously rendered, engaging writing. Thank you for it!

  • JS

    I relate to the reverse of this, well sort of. I come from a mixed family and most of my Black relatives do not live in the same state as I do. Growing up in the PNW their wasn’t many, or any at times, other minorities and if there was most were some sort of Asian or Hispanic. So I pretty much grew up immersed in the most part in white culture. The immediate family I did have around me who were Black, just let me do my own thing and encourage me to follow any natural interest. Also it is worth mentioning that PNW is different than most other of Midwest or South so there isn’t much discrimination here comparatively so I didn’t realize much about the impact of race till late in high school.

    It wasn’t until I was older where I actually felt pressured, sometimes by non-immediate family (although it would be in a joking way), other Black people I would encounter, and non Blacks, to learn about being Black or really act more Black. The consensus among them was, “well you are Black shouldn’t you know about ____?” Or I would get hated on by other people because they would assume me acting the way I did was me trying to assimilate and acting “uppity” rather than the environment I was raised in.

    However regardless, its the same that non-Blacks assume you are the negro whisper and can talk to or explain the “strange” actions of other Black people. Even though at the same time they realize (and acknowledge with “you don’t act Black”) you don’t know everything about Black culture because you were right there with them from K to 8th grade growing up in a quiet suburban neighborhood. smh.

    I think though that anyone, no matter what race, but Blacks especially, should not feel like they have to compromise who they are to get by.

  • sunkissbliss

    Thank you, so much, this article was so humorous and actual! I think about what you wrote, so often, especially after getting our first black president, the apex of power, influence and respect, right? I love that nothing changes that I’m black, a woman, from the hood! I grew up watching friends trying to disguise themselves, only to be spotted out, by other elite blacks or realizing black is going to always be black, never orange or green. I use navigating mechanisms to get through doors or obstacles, but I always know it’s just a game (facade or veneer). I love being a black woman and observe how others WISH they could maintain their whiteness, take everything they marvel black and be like me! I heard Dick Gregory in an interview say, “Racism isn’t a problem, It’s easy to fool white people.” I agree, it’s much more difficult to convince ourselves. Again, thanks for a marvelous piece of writing!

  • LemonNLime

    Maybe it is just me, but I honestly have a hard time understanding the topic of assimilation. I always wonder, how would you “act” if you weren’t “assimilating”? I would continue to act the way I do now because this is just who I am. It just seems like people associate “assimilating” with not being loud or confrontational or not having a name that starts with “La” or “Da” or “Le”, or another set of stereotypical “black” characteristics that I never exhibited anyway. Does that make sense? I feel like this is a hard one to have to write to explain, it makes sense in my head. I don’t know…

  • ambi

    love your comment! I have friends who think like that, that it’s all on us to change and then whites won’t have a “reason” to not like us or do wrong to us. I smh at that as they don’t NEED a reason. In there minds there is NOTHING wrong with giving the job to the less skilled white because “well I feel they will be a better fit” i.e I’ll be more comfortable working with them, they are more like me” since the majority of hiring managers and people who MAKE the decisions is still in mostly white people hands it will be no where near “fair” for us period

  • donnadara

    Some black people are more biased against poor black people than white people are.

  • GeekMommaRants

    I have cousins in Canada and the UK, these folks are more Canadian and British than the Royal Family.

    Assimilation in the US in some ways does not apply to many since it does not happen. Other countries have an expectation that minorities will assimilate into the general culture and standards.

    This country cannot have this expectation, many in our community. do not have this option.

    This fact should be known by all blacks regardless of location.

  • jay cee

    Beautifully written. It touches on all the aspects that Black people are confronted with.

  • http://awomynsworth.com awomynsworth

    Spot on!

    I feel that pressure to assimilate whenever I’m applying for a job. My resume screams BLACK WOMAN! with my previous employment with a Black newspaper, my blog on Black women’s interests, and my historically Black sorority affiliation.

    A friend told me to take it all off my resume–but I’m a recent college grad- there’ already not much on my resume. And I’m proud of all those things.

    Assimilation often leads a bad taste in people’s mouths–it feels like concealing a major part of yourself.

    Also, that “Negro Whisperer” was hilarious and sadly- it happens way too often

  • BeanBean

    I don’t believe in assimilation. No matter what job I have, I’m still going to be black, I’ll still be a minority! I’m more of a fan of acculturation, which is having/ being able two switch between two cultures. As a black person, I am a minority, I know that, that is a fact. Until further notice I’m still going to have to operate in a white society, unless I move to Africa. At work, I just keep it neutral. I’m familiar with name discrimination, me and a friend of mine did a personal experiment. She has a more ‘Black sounding’ name and mine is Emma. It took two days for someone to call me for in interview, it took her over two weeks for one interview! Racism is real, it’s not going anywhere.

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    I totally get you! people think that i’m putting on an act or that im trying to act “white” or trying to sound”white”. i was born speaking this way and even my own parents were wondering why i didn’t sound “black”.

  • MommieDearest

    “Negro Whisperer”

    __^_^_^__^__^______^_______^____________________________________________

  • K

    i must say i had a similar outcome happen. Im in education and last summer I was applying to jobs and got 1 interview over 4 months. My experience had been that if i interviewed i got the job more likely than not but i wasn’t even getting called for interviews. around that time it came to my attention again the study about names on the resumes. my real name screams Im black. I decided to start applying with my grandmas names, which also happened to be one of the names on the actually list they used in the study on the white side (her name was Carrie). I always figured if they asked I could say I was “honoring” her thats why names didnt match.

    Anyway I got 3 interviews in a matter of 2 weeks towards the end of summer and got one of the jobs. Fast forward to this summer (currently) i was still using the name, but my interviewing skills must have falling off because I have been getting so many interviews i cant even count anymore but still no job offers. I am tired of wasting my time/gas etc and honestly purely just frustrated with defeat, so I have made the decision to go back to using my real name. I figure it will give me a break from the rejection, as im positive ill be receiving less interview request and seriously my mental cant take anymore rejection.

    Also i decided in my mind that if a company is willing to give me a chance using my real name then they will be worth me going to an interview for because they may just in fact be more open minded seeing as how my very ethnic name didnt deter them from seeing my qualifications. I also wondered too if me using the name Carrie and then my black self showed up if that affected the interviews as well.

  • cookiechica

    I’m so there with you! What you’re saying(I believe) is this:

    “I’m a black woman who looks, sounds, and acts like the black woman I am. I’m not(choose one or as many as needed): Trying to assimilate into another race and/or culture/Purposely faking the funk for others to think fellow members of my race are less than stellar and I’m exceptional/ Fooling myself that I’m “passing” and making my life easier/Ashamed of my race/Culturally appropriating(or misappropriating) other races’ or cultures’ characteristics as I need to in order to get by/Deliberately trying to be the “Uplifter Of(or a Credit To) my Race” by taking on characteristics that appease others/ Code switching to get ahead in my career, look more desirable to a love interest, and/or maintain friendships.

    I’m being me, a multifaceted, non Negro Whispering woman. Stop dumping your assumptions and expectations of what black is supposed to be on my back, because there’s no “right way” to be black”.

    If this is what you mean, you’re absolutely right, ’cause I’ve said something similar to all the above since my early teen years to present time(about 30 years or so)

  • Jen

    That story about the guy ramming his car into a weave store and running off with $10,000 worth of Indian Remy. I don’t know if it’s true, or if you made it up for a joke, but either way, it’s hilarious. lol!

    I do the “switching” thing all the time. It’s so automatic now, I don’t even think about it. It can come in handy, in all types of situations. One time we were back in the Caribbean visiting family. My sister (whose accent is more “Canadian” than mine), asked my aunt something. My aunt couldn’t understand her accent, and kept staring at her. After two attempts, my sister gave up, and asked me to “translate”. I basically said the same thing, in a Trinidadian accent, and my aunt finally understood. :-)

    For me, the big thing is the accent, and I’ve modified it from time to time, depending on who I’m talking to. As for my hair, that’s staying natural (I’ve grown emotionally attached to it, and me and flat irons don’t agree!)

  • Nat Irvin II

    ..interesting but dated concept and approach. what does assimilate mean when you and your culture are the one to which others are “assimilating… When the minority majority mix changes–as it already has, you’re looking in the wrong direction…

  • dirtychai

    True. To me that is the worst effect of respectability politics.
    I wish some of these Black intellectuals and academics really had a grasp of what it means to “lift as you climb”. I think they could really make a difference.
    It seems that the lay-people, the rappers, and the ball players do more Black communities than the Cornels and the Tavis’s. Just saying.

  • dirtychai

    “non Negro Whispering woman”

    I needed this in my life. Thank you.

  • http://gravatar.com/kareemalive kareemalive

    Danielle, so on point. Its tough to work between circles and still maintain feet in both. Props to you for recognizing what we deal with and presenting the issues so clearly.

  • Tsaun

    This is one of the best articles I have ever read! And so so true…..

  • Tsaun

    What does “sound black” mean exactly?

  • The Other Jess

    GREAT ARTICLE.

    “Assimilation is the greatest and most important waste of time any black person will ever engage in.”
    BEST STATEMENT EVER.

    ” 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.”

    MOST HILARIOUS STATEMENT EVER.

  • The Other Jess

    “It seems that the lay-people, the rappers, and the ball players do more Black communities than the Cornels and the Tavis’s.”

    Ummmm..really??

  • Beautiful Mic

    IMO, aspects of society like black newspapers and black sorority scream assimilation, because they would not have evolved without blacks having been exposed to those concepts within white society.

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    “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.”

    That’s adapting and trying to survive. I doubt that when a black person gets a job their goal is to convert racists. They just want a job. Everything one does doesn’t have to be for the purpose of fighting racism. There is no point trying to convert racists, people who assimilate are not trying to do that, they are just trying to relate to the majority so they can get what they need in life. Assimilating doesn’t have to have any relation to activism or changing racists. Yes, assimilating got Obama into the White House, mission accomplished! He ran for president and got it, he didn’t run as ‘the solution to racism’.

  • au napptural

    Assimilation is a trap. Black people or any people of color are only tolerated (not accepted) when they are exotified beyond belief (think Lil Wayne or Rihanna) or whitewashed to death. But at the first sign of trouble people will still fall back on stereotypes. But beyond that it sets whites up as the final arbiters of right and wrong. I personally don’t give a flying fig newton what white people think and the notion we should is so backwards. I do agree that assimilation was first designed to keep us safe and sound in a place where we aren’t the majority. But as we see, black lives are still in danger every min. whether we wear tennis whites and listen to NPR or ride dirty in old Caddys. We are still seen as threats, even more so if we assimilate. As they say, the only thing that scares a white man more than a nigga with a gun is a nigga in a suit.

    But assimiltion is successful in one sense: it neutralizes us. When we are using all of energy trying to appease whites and look non-threating we aren’t using any to get out of the dire situation we are in. We, that is upper class Negroes, are too scared to rock the boat to stand up for right. Yes, people had up some nice Trayvon Martin statuses on Facebook, but no one with a degree was going to riot. In fact, it’s supposed to be our job as the buffer between white society and the rest of the black community to “calm the Negro masses.” Every time I heard some pastor being told by cops to have community meetings to control the young angry people, I got more pissed. They’re just puppets. It has always been the function of the assimilated in our community to control the masses. Instead the educated people should be helping to organize them. I agree it would be a mistake to riot and tear up black neighborhodds. Shoot, organize a car pool and go tear up South Beach instead :) . As long as we are more concerned with being safe Negroes and keeping jobs or whatever, injustice will always be tolerated by us.

    The point of that long rant was assimilation or no, black people will never get have a good life in this country. We can say it’s more comfortable materially or less dangerous than other places, but compare the treatment of a black citizen to a white citizen it’s like we live a different country altogether. That’s we need to be working on, not being more like the oppressor.

  • GR

    AMEN! Assimilation is seen in our community as a dirty word but not assimilating keeps us from attaining our rightful portion. Assimilating means doing what the Asians do: do well in school, speak english that can get you a job yet still keep the english you learn in the hood too cause that is useful too. Just knowing how to travel both worlds is important!

  • GR

    I don’t know. This article strikes something negative for me or shall I say problematic. What does she mean by assimilation? My blackness is not defined by Bell Biv Devoe’s “never trust a big butt and a smile” sexist song anyway. My blackness is defined by my courage, hard work and integrity – I believe. So often growing up, kids made fun of black kids who “assimilated”, meaning who did not do all the cool things that we defined as “black”. Assimilation without losing yourself is important but not knowing how to navigate the world of the people in power is highly problematic. Like I said, Asians do this well and I bring them up because they do well for their communities. Their children speak fluent Chinese, eat their foods, help out at the family owned business etc but still manage to assimilate. I am not saying they don’t have it easier than us. Just saying we need to learn that assimilating is not a bad thing. You cannot attain power without knowing your “enemy’s” world to a tee. It is a game of chess.

  • Ni

    I feel that assimilation has its pros and cons. For example, my name is Niga….many people read it as Nigga at first glance. Of course I’ve grown up been taunted and having to correct many people so I do want to change my name (only by one letter because I love my name). The point of saying that is when I am applying for jobs I easily get looked over although the work experience I do have qualifies me. When I have kids I want them to judged on their qualifications and not what their name tells someone. I don’t feel that having a more common name really makes you any less black. When you walk into the interview you are who you are. Your “blackness” is determined by how you go about presenting yourself and manifesting that. A name is something minor in the grand scheme of things. You can compromise on a name but not your culture as a whole.

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    Black folks are perfectly fine with Black folks totally assimilating to any thing another Black person makes up or likes (e.g., what they eat, drink, wear, how they talk etc.) Wearing only designer brands, Air Jordans, speaking all the same. liking and playing basketball, wanting to be a rapper and idolizing them, watching Real Housewives etc. They encourage that kind of conformity and insult, pressure, and even beat up people who don’t conform to their definition of “blackness”. I know some people conform to black culture just to be accepted and fit in.If you spend $4000 on a purse and $1000 on hair then you are trying to impress somebody. But that is called being the real you. Gobbling up anything modern black culture throws out, like Moscato and YOLO is being true to yourself and not conforming lol!

    But watch out if you like anything White people do or act like them in any way…then you are assimilating for all the wrong reasons.

  • Ellis

    You are so on point. I agree with everything that you have said. Regarding your comment about assimilation neutralizing us, I remember what Malcolm X said about integration, something on the lines on (from the top of my head): When you have black coffee, it is strong, but when you integrate it with cream it loses its flavour (or it becomes weaker I think) , and when you add so much cream you forget that you had coffee in the first place.

  • GreatArticle

    Ok..enjoyed the article and had me lol. As an “old head” and been around for a spell; one thing I’ve learned in this Black life is once you stop worrying about white folks is the day you will start to enjoy life…oops unless you are a blogger or a writer who have to continueously create topics. No shade at Danielle….you are the best in blog world.

  • LemonNLime

    Thank you! That is EXACTLY what I was trying to say!

  • Black People

    This article has nothing to do with code switching, acting or talking white, or being properly educated. Simply that black people are being penalized for being black, for even being born. Nothing more. This article is not addressing what it means to to be black, to sound, act, dress, look a certain way. Simply that whatever black people do in life, we’ll always be penalized and nothing is ever good enough. The most important piece in this article though is that the most powerful man on planet earth is not even allowed to talk to his own people of America about race or anything concerning blacks. White people have black people scared to talk to one another, work with one another, hang with one another, hell, white people even have black people scared to look black, from our hair, facial features, and skin tone. Ex. Job Interview: Wrong hair-penalized, wrong name-penalized, HBCU-penalized, black colleagues-penalized. Black people can’t be right with white people because were born wrong.

  • http://wwww.habariganiamerica.com habariganiamerica

    Exactly… leave the race war to the professionals. And Danielle is definitely a professional.I loved this article. Danielle has embodied internal monologue middle-class African Americans live out between the check out lines and the paycheck lines. At 56, I am personally tired of the repetitive racist lingo. It is always the same. I have taken to, “Wait. Let me finish that sentence for you.It sounds better in my voice.” This is a delightful article and I hope to read more from Danielle. Thank you, Smart Lady.

  • aDORKable

    Thank You GR. I was going to post something similar to what you said. Some of us that are seen as assimilated can’t help where we were brought up and what our parents taught us. My parents would constantly be asked who is that little white girl that answers your phone at home when I would answer the phone. They thought it was amusing, and I could only roll my eyes. Why must I change myself to make others feel better and consider me Black? The first thing that comes to mind is the Jessie J song “Who You Are”. I had tried once to assimilate in modern Black culture so the teasing and bullying would stop, but it wasn’t me and never would be. I didn’t last a day, much less the first six hours. I grew up going to museums, botanical gardens, going camping, participating in Girl Scouts, dance classes, and clubs that were for artists, community services, against alcohol and drugs, and chess club. If there was anything of educational value, I would ask if I could go and my father was happy to take me. That might not be seen as modern Black culture, but it was in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. They pushed education because they weren’t able to go as far as they wanted to. The motto was that each generation could and should do better than the last. I might be seen as “assimilated” but I’ve gotten farther than my other Black peers and former classmates who aren’t. Besides, why would I want to co-sign on what is considered as modern Black culture or should I say stereotype?

  • http://wwww.habariganiamerica.com habariganiamerica

    Oh yes… my Italian neighbor consistently wants to have political conversations, yet wants it on his terms. I remind him each time that if you are speaking to anyone else besides yourself, you must consider their cultural perspective, not change who you are. If you are talking to a dog, you do not have to get down on four legs. Assimilation is getting down on all fours, scratching your backside, and rolling over.

  • http://wwww.habariganiamerica.com habariganiamerica

    That is classism. And yes… we are “free” to prefer a specific way of life. We have always had a Black middle-class. That is why the “first this and that” is so embarrassing. But that is an internal African American conversation. The poor whites always joined with black families against the rich land owners. Ignorant Black families benefited from the “white protector.” To counter this camaraderie the rich embraced their poor brothers by making them overseers of the plantation, and rebuking their destitute brothers for forming Black affiliations. Thus, keeping a clear line between class and color in their world. The rich must keep racism to the forefront, else poor whites will storm their barracks.

  • Beelive

    Malcolm X assimilated. He read all the great books every other intellectual was reading – not just “black” themed- books – to advance himself. Is that not assimilation on some level? Let’s not fall into this trap where we believe only if we keep to ourselves can we advance. We can be part of the rest of this huge and amazing world and still be true to ourselves. In fact, white people win when we convince ourselves we can’t be part of the world. They want that. The true threat is if we see ourselves as the global citizens that we are. This earth belongs to us. Assimilation does not neutralize us, it widens our experience. Assimilation to me means looking at this great big earth and its billions of inhabitants and knowing we have the right to know, experience, be a part of and demand any part of it that we want. We need our children to know this otherwise we still are acting as if we still can only drink from a particular fountain. This world is vast. Why can’t a black kid decide he wants to study the ruins of Greece and learn Greek and go live there for 4 years to do that? Is that the kind of assimilation we are talking about? Or are we saying that every other race can walk into an interview with the same interview skills but ours are betraying us because we are trying to be assimilate if we use the same interview skills everyone else does?

  • Leo

    In all honesty, whether many of you want to accept it or not, you’re already assimilated into American culture/society. What is it that separates black Americans from whites? Nothing.

    It’s not like any of you (other than those who are native born Africans or Afro-Descendants from Caribbean/South & Central American countries) has a discernible culture that would uniquely distinguish you from whites. The only thing that separates you is your skin color/hair texture and blacks in America are basically brown skin white people.

    On a social level, the assimilation of blacks in American society has not been welcoming on any level and it never will: all it really has done for our people is to reinforce and sustain white supremacy.

    I didn’t say this to be mean, but it is the truth and we all know it. Posts like this would not have a need to be written if many of you knew who you were and weren’t obviously confused about your identity.

  • Carolyn Gray

    Assimilation is about the law of survival – adapting as necessary to ‘get over’ in a world where people who do not look like you or share your culture, gets to call all the shots. I was in the corporate world for more than 40 years…and managed to work my way up to the final step before you hit the total glass ceiling (whites/jews only)…when I arrived at the understanding that no matter how good you are, how hard you work, how much money you make for the company, how much good will you create for the company, unless you have the luck of Oprah (who ran into white people willing to help her/open doors for her) you will be shut out. And that assimilation game – you know that they know that you are still black and have a ‘secret life’ after work (our version of being bi-cultural). But as long as you both are willing to pretend that if you work a little harder, acquire a few more skills, kiss a few more butts, go to a few more boring company functions…that someday you just might hit the ‘negro lotto’ and be THE ONE with all the aforementioned skills/experience who appears at the right place and time to be passed through the glass ceiling door to the tippy top level….where you just might be struck by a lightning bolt and catapulted into the CEO chair. Otherwise, after a few years and drills you accept that you’re just playing for time….time to write a different ending to your own story. I love business…it’s just one big game. The ‘baggage’ (your race, background, culture, etc.) you bring into the game must be shaped into your special powers to move you to as many levels as possible. After reading your piece, I am hoping to see a generation of African Americans enter the game to learn the rules then go off and build their own games. I’m off the merry-go-round and running a non-profit I created to preserve local black history. That’s the kind of thing you can do when you stop worrying about what white people think of you.

  • YeahDanielle

    Two old heads who somewhat think alike. Love me some Danielle..wish she was my daughter, although I have one a little younger than Danielle. She is a great writer and enjoy her articles. She seems to always hit the nail right on the head…lol. Have seen her on MSNBC over the years and she is a great guest. Always professional and is so polite. Never overtalks her guests and is always on point. We are truly blessed to have her in our blog world.

  • Whew!

    Answering your Mama’s phone by saying “hello” makes you sound white…chile please. Whew….where does all this made us stuff come from.

  • http://gravatar.com/hsm36 Whatever

    “I sincerely believe that a majority of white Americans have some form of prejudice against black folks. I believe so because even though the overt perpetrators are a minority, the majority is not concerned enough and have no desire to change. It afterall has benefited them for 500 years and counting.”

    YES!

  • Tamara

    This article has a level of sadness and fatalism that we black people always seem to embrace. Hmmm, wake up call: we have to assimilate. You want to drive a car? It will be a German, Italian or WHITE American designed car. You want to use the phone? It was created by a WHITE designer and business man. You use Facebook? Yup, white man creation. SO WHAT? What we can do is learn, learn, learn and then use knowledge to then own our own thing. Stop complaining about assimilation. It is what it is and will always be here. Also, what exactly did you want to happen in a job interview? Have it conducted in Ebonics? What about Vietnamese or Spanish then? See where I am going with this. White people are in power. We assimilate. Play them at their game then own yours. That is the game. Even if you moved to Ghana, you’d be engaging in white assimilation too because they colonized the motherland as well. Get over it. Also, did she just quote the song Poison with this lyric “She’s weighin’ but I know she’s a loser
    How do you know me and the crew used to do her”. Girl please. I see anything to get us riled up huh.

  • au napptural

    That’s bull and you know it. Malcolm X merely took knowledge from all quarters, he didn’t privilege white thought and white people, which is what assimilation is. Submereging his black identity in whiteness to gain some faux acceptance.And if you read his biography properly you’d know he was fascinated with African history, with our accomplishments, not the white man’s. What’s wrong with the scenario you painted was the lack of balance. It’s fine to have wide interests, but for most assimilated black people that equals white interests. What is God’s name does Greece have to do with blackness? Can that same person tell you anything about Khemet? Carthage? The Fauta? The Ashanti? Anything having to do with black history that didn’t happen in America?

    Global is not code for white. African is huge chunk o the globe, yet I’m sure most black americans couldn’t name five countries in Africa and their capitals. So don’t hand me that. We all know what “global” and “int’l” and all that nonsense means.

  • Anon

    Common sense is rare these days. You have it in spades.

  • Anon

    This reaction (the tone of the article) is really built out of fear that some black folks ARE going to do better than others, and have better lives. The only things that are seen as “black” are the most basic you can do. That way everyone can participate in “black culture”. Black culture has to be accessible for all black people because so many feel and are excluded from “mainstream” culture. If it wasn’t available to errrrrone, you can just imagine how much less cohesion black Americans would have.

  • http://gravatar.com/bossladi bossladi

    This article is EVERYTHING! It perfectly articulates my sentiments!

  • http://gravatar.com/dailyballyhoo AngelCie

    Wonderful comments. They remind me of the book the Spook Who Sat by the Door.

  • https://www.facebook.com/sarita.alexander Sarita Alexander

    I wish I could have this article printed on a billboard. Thank you, sums up my point of view on this matter perfectly. No matter how I may try to assimilate, they can still see I’m black, so it won’t work. I’ll continue to just be me.

  • Carissa

    As a Caribbean immigrant, I vote not to assimilate.
    “Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe” Kanye West

  • callingoutthebs

    You speak english don’t you? That is assimilating. Otherwise, you’d be speaking your tribal African language.

  • callingoutthebs

    DIMWIT. That was the point she/he was making. We are GLOBAL. We can learn about the pyramids, the Yorubans AND learn about Greece too. Why? Cause we can! Malcolm X was a worldly man so he studied and understood all areas of thought not just black ones. This is precisely why he was a genius. He learned white culture enough to be precisely prepared to attack it. THAT is assimilation at its highest level. Don’t be talking power and anti assimilation when you can’t read on a 12th grade level talking about you want to keep it real. Come one my people. come ON.

  • callingoutthebs

    I agree! We are GLOBAL. We can learn about the pyramids, the Yorubans AND learn about Greece too. Why? Cause we can! Malcolm X was a worldly man so he studied and understood all areas of thought not just black ones. This is precisely why he was a genius. He learned white culture enough to be precisely prepared to attack it. THAT is assimilation at its highest level. Don’t be talking power and anti assimilation when you can’t read on a 12th grade level talking about you want to keep it real. Come one my people. come ON. More important things to focus on like ending stand your ground laws! Helloooooo!

  • callingoutthebs

    Correction: YOU can’t name five countries in Africa and their capitals. I, for one, have visited and/or lived in more than five in Africa. Thank you. Sit down.

  • LolaB

    Thank you for your post. I am a proud black American of Caribbean origins who have traveled the world extensively. I find it hard at times to be in the US, I feel uncomfortable in this very American black-white racial dichotomy. I am a global citizen and relate to people from all backgrounds.

  • Athena

    Really? So black people NEVER shared news with each other before white people came along? Or had secret societies? Seems like someone needs to read up on history…

  • http://twitter.com/upukcab Addison Jones (@upukcab)

    Thats an interesting concept white culture. White culture is an appropriation of human culture so are all cultures we assimilate what we need and reject what we don’t.

  • teehee

    No, that’s speaking the language you were born and raised with.
    Unfortunately she can’t speak her “tribal African language” was wiped out of her ancestors’ memory.

  • :( NOT STRESSING IT THOUGH

    To cookiechica you’re right there is no right way to be “black”. America is supposed to be a melting pot that welcomes individuality, but it secretly is not welcoming.But Whatever. Not only am I American but I was born here. Ain’t nobody trying to be white or black! I’m so focused on being true to myself. I didn’t get to choose my race, I’m just tickled that people let something I didn’t have any say in effect them in some way. All day, everyday, I do what I feel. I do what I think and feel is appropiate for me. If you are gonna judge anyone judge them for something they have control over. I am an individual with my own preferences.Those people who judge people or offer better to based on race. Shame on them. Its not me, I can only be responsible for myself. We are all on the way out just make sure you prepare accordingly. Life is not that long.

  • Kelen

    Anon: WOW. What a great response.

  • Kelen

    Teehee: Is she was REALLY interested in assimilation, she could learn her tribal language or one close to it and then insist on speaking that language when she is going on job interviews. Actually why not insist you don’t want to work, apply for jobs or do anything that requires assimilation. How about that huh? This article is utter garbage. No wonder we don’t know how to leave the front yard. Fear. We are focused on what we lose in assimilation instead of what power we can gain in using assimilation to our benefit. Like someone said, the Asians figured it out real quick.

  • Kelen

    Is you are REALLY not interested in assimilation, you could learn your tribal language or one close to it and then insist on speaking that language when you are going on job interviews. Actually why not insist you don’t want to work, apply for jobs or do anything that requires assimilation? How about that huh? This article is utter garbage. No wonder we don’t know how to leave the front yard. Fear. We are focused on what we lose in assimilation instead of what power we can gain in using assimilation to our benefit. Like someone said, the Asians figured it out real quick. Y’all still whining about basically wanting people to accept you. They won’t. Get yours anyway.

  • Shalala

    The idea going forward : let us discontinue the practice of naming our children those names that scream “I am from the ghetto”. 3syllables max. Then, when they are of age to decide whether or not the would like to “assimilate, they can decide on their own.

  • Questions

    I don’t think you read the article completely. Yes, assimilation technically works for you as an individual. She pointed out how well it worked for President Obama. But assimilating, i.e., getting rid of any vestiges of you having a culture distinct from the majority, doesn’t cure racism. As she said, people don’t think, after hearing Obama speak “Maybe, I was wrong about Black people. They’re not lazy, underachievers who are probably biologically incapable of attaining the same level of success as [insert whatever race person belongs to].” Instead, they think “Wow, he’s so different from all the other Black people I’ve never met, but heard about through statistics and the news. He’s the exception!”

    Let me offer an example. Consider an American’s opinion of Europeans? When we meet one, we marvel in how interesting/romantic their accent is. We admire their food, and buildings and history.We assume they are more intelligent and forward thinking.

    However, we Americans are taught Black American culture is bad. We are embarrassed by their accent. We laugh at the food they choose to eat, and we for sure don’t want to be reminded of their history. We do not assume anything positive about Black people. We want them to change. (SN:I always wondered, pretending Black Americans did choose to eat watermelon and fried chicken disproportionately more than other cultures, why should they be disparaged for that? We don’t laugh at Italians for eating pasta, or the French for eating cheese)

    I was having an argument with someone about the development of American English. It’s clearly not the same English as it was when America was first being inhabited by those on the Mayflower. It’s developed over time by the contributions of immigrants. But no one ever says Americans need to learn how to speak proper English. No one questions their accent and misspellings of words.Different regions in America speak and pronounce words differently. I’m sure you can tell a Bostonian from a New Yorker. However, no one sits there and assumes a Bostonian’s accent is wrong, because it’s different from a New Yorker’s. However if a Black person speaks different from a White person, the are definitely speaking wrong. Black people are not afforded the opportunity contribute to the development American English. They’ve been specifically excluded.

    And, I know you are one of those people who don’t care about the unfairness of it all. You accept. You don’t want to fight racism, or enlighten people. You just want to exist. But, I can tell you from living in other countries where racism against Blacks is more insidious, accepting maltreatment doesn’t make it go away. It reinforces it.

  • Kelen

    I fight racism every day by being excellent. I fight racism by encouraging black people, black kids and black friends to be excellent. I don’t care if I get denied or judged by whites. If they do it illegally, I will hire a lawyer and if they do it in an instance where I have no legal recourse, then I ignore them. They have been the same way since I was 5. Who says because we assimilate we are accepting maltreatment? I am saying we are probably the only race of people in America who make assimilation a source of conflict for us. At least we do it to the point of detriment. We are afraid to assimilate because we are afraid of what we will lose in the process. When Is say assimilate, all I am saying is our people need to learn a better way to exist in this white world in order to get what we need. Violence against each other is not assimilating. Children having children is not assimilating. Having kids you can’t support is not assimilating. Not going to school is not assimilating. Not speaking STANDARD english is not assimilating. I don’t know about 200 years ago but right now, in 2013, there is one very clear standard english that will get you a job. The world is very competitive right now. We have Asians coming to America and basically getting all the high tech jobs. We need to catch up. We don’t have time to debate basic assimilation skills because we will be left out in the cold. let’s get ours then when we have a level of financial power, we can talk about the difficulty of assimilating. You know what I am saying is true. No one is saying assimilating will make whites like you. No, assimilating is about you not them.

  • Kelen

    Whew: you missed her point. I got what she was saying. Why be negative? Bravo to adorkable for a good point made.

  • rese

    WOW! Some of you missed the point. Perhaps it went over your head or perhaps you just had to be there. I loved this. I have experienced the perspective of trying to fit in with the others and now at this point, I no longer care. It’s there problem for judging, not mine.

  • aDORKable

    @ Whew

    How can you say my experiences are made up? You weren’t there. Also, chile is spelled child. Please don’t denounce my life experiences if you can’t even spell a simple five-letter word or acknowledge that I said my parents’ phone, not my mother’s phone. I grew up with a lot of Blacks (adults and children) calling me an Oreo, accusing me of trying to be White and telling me I’m not Black enough from the way I speak, to the way I dress, from what I listened to, etc… Just because you didn’t have experiences like mine or people like me, doesn’t mean they didn’t happen or are figments of imaginations.

  • Jen

    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.

  • 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)

  • Jen

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • http://phelps.donotremove.net Phelps

    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.

  • apple

    i didn’t know there is a time when you can stop worrying about white people since they run everything.. kind of hard to ignore if they follow you in stores, can turn down your housing loan,not hire you or possibly shoot you as you walk home holding skittles and ice tea

  • 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.

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