Balanced Melting Pot

Thoughts on the recent presidential election…

In Culture, Parenting, Questions, Race Relations on November 10, 2008 at 3:04 pm

So, all this talk about the recent historic milestone in American history due to the election of the first African-American president got me thinking about expectations we have as parents, and moreover , immigrants.

I have often wondered if the expectations that my parents had of me, as well as those placed on myself had more to do with my family specifically, my generation or the age old dreams of immigrants to the USA. For instance, it was almost a requirement that my sister and I get a college degree and that we maintained very good grades. Of course, along with good academic performance comes the notion that you can “be whatever you want to be” when you grow up. Hence, that’s exactly what I have thought all along.

About a month ago, I was watching the HBO special titled The Black List which chronicles the experiences of successful black people in America. One of the interviewees (I think it was Richard Parsons, former Time Warner CEO) stated that someone once asked him something to the tune of ‘At which point did you realize that you could become the head of one of the world’s largest media companies?’ His answer was ‘I never realized I couldn’t.’ 

This has been my sentiment about what I am capable of achieving for as long as I can remember. I was lucky enough to have parents that never focused on any obstacles that were beyond my control (i.e. race, social class, etc.). Accordingly, this will also be the sentiment/expectation that gets passed down to my children.

Did you grow up with similar expectations of life? If so, do you attribute it to the drive that many immigrant families come here with or to the political changes that this country has gone through over the past 40-50 years? If not, are you changing your expectations for your children or do you think that their success can be limited by prejudice, etc.?

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  1. Hi! Thanks for your comments on my blog.
    Interesting posts.
    As an *immigrant* in France, I can say that I feel differently. For one thing, a white American immigrant is treated quite differently than those from Africa, Middle East, etc.
    But I also get sick of people assuming that I must be either a) teaching English or b) doing translation work as a job, because that is the only type of job someone like me can get. It’s not.
    So yeah, I guess I am trying to prove that I can have a job that any other French person can have, even a very high-level job.

  2. Thanks for giving this different perspective on being an immigrant. I, too,have heard thos assumptions made about Americans living in France. I think knowing how difficult the job market can be there, people often feel as though the employment options are limited for a foreigner. It’s people like you who prove them wrong 🙂

  3. Every now and again I run into people who can’t relate to the struggles associated with being non-white in America. Most, sincerely want to understand the perspective of a black woman who was born into poverty but has beat the odds associated with it and who by most accounts—except her own, has reached a level of success that parallels those born into the middle or upper class. They often ask questions such as “If it’s so difficult, how come you made it?” My response is usually along the lines of this: I had a wonderful family that believed in me more than I believed in myself. I never wanted to let them down. As a result, I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone. I’ve also always been very competitive. High scores, first place, most awards, etc. were goals I set for myself. I was also fortunate enough to have attended school in my own neighborhood, and then transferred to a school in the suburbs. That helped me to see the world in ways that many children never have to. The differences in expectations, materials, teachers, cleanliness of the corridors and classrooms, desks, chairs…the school itself, was striking. Even I, an 8 year old child could see that the playing field was not leveled. I was no charity case in my new school either. I held my own. In fact, I was placed in the gifted program—IGC. Intellectually Gifted Children. I was well liked by peers and faculty throughout my school years and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who went to the school with me who doesn’t remember me. I say that not to boast, because I am a firm believer that confidence is quiet. However, I want you to understand that I know it’s possible to grow up in poverty or to be a race other than white and still be successful. The question is, is there true equality in America for black folk…Haitian, Jamaican, Bahamian, Hawaiian, African-American, etc? In my experience, the answer is a resounding No. Do I say that as a disgruntled underachiever? No, but I am also far from naïve. I’m a realist. I am seeing the world for what it is and acknowledging and celebrating the difficulties that I have faced and those I can not even imagine that are experienced by others. If expecting your children to do well was the antidote for racism, poverty or privilege, we wouldn’t have waited until 2008 to elect the first black president. Surely you don’t believe that there has been no black person more qualified than George Bush to be president. I bet even Richard Parson never thought he’d see a black president in his lifetime.

    If any of us are lucky enough to have never experienced bias or missed an opportunity due to the color of our skin, then the kudos should not be taken as our own, but should be given to those whose shoulders we stand upon. Those whose circumstances were less than ideal who were looked at as nothing more than niggers, but were just as intelligent, hardworking, educated and confident as we are but had to fight for themselves, and for us to be respected simply as Men and Women. Martin Luther King Jr. could have still been alive today if he concerned himself with only his success and failed to see the plight of others as his problem.

    If all were fair and equal then it would be safe to say that anyone who had a picturesque upbringing—going to the best schools, living in suburbia, great parents, yada, yada and failed to be living their dreams—doing a job that they love, living a lifestyle where payment plans or credit cards balances are unheard of, is an underachiever. A person who pissed on their opportunities. Of course I don’t believe that just as I would never subscribe to the notion that all is fair in America. Believe it or not, neither do most progressive white Americans.

    For more information check out White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

    Or get yourself a copy of Tim Wise’s book White Like Me.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful post and the detailed insight to how you view the struggle of black people in America. I think what tints the glasses from which immigrants view their struggles a different shade from African-Americans is because many of them come from places with another history of inequalities; some of which are still occurring today.

    For instance, Haiti has a history of placing more value on people of lighter-skin tone. While this issue has, and still to some extent still does exist in the African-American culture, it’s for a different reason. The varying reason for it does not make it any less injust, it just means that each culture will probably need a different path to overcome it.

    I agree that inequalities do still exist in the US and unfortunately probably always will. However, the fact that someone like President-Elect Obama or you can still be successful despite these inequalities reiterates my sentiment of “I never thought that I couldn’t…”

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