Kerry Dawkins, 2008
As many people know, we do not identify with our body’s external ethnicity, and never have to a great extent. Most of us are of European extraction, except for a few of us, who happen to be a hodgepodge of several different races, Chinese-American, Japanese and a few flavours of non-human. By contrast, the body’s ethnicity is most visibly black, although there are apparently few other things mixed in there. None of us are black*, and don’t relate to that cultural experience in an intuitive way. If someone asked us how to talk about the ‘black experience in the West’, it would sound like an outsider’s point of view. It is, really, because we’re simply people fronting in a body that does not resemble us, and it’s not the same. Even with the body involved, our own individual perspectives get in the way. We refuse to do it, anyway, because it would be inauthentic coming from us. We just wouldn’t give you a good picture of the ‘black experience’.
Honestly, we’ve never really felt intuitively that we were ‘black’. We only ‘knew’, in a cultural sense, that we were, thanks to enculturation. Most Plures have not felt under-represented in media, and while we found racist stereotypes about black people offensive, we never felt that they applied to us in the same way that a stereotype directed towards one of our own individual ethnicities would. We also take homophobic slurs much more personally than we’ve ever taken racist slurs. The racist stereotyping was just offensive in the same way racist stereotyping of Mexicans or Hungarians is, or anti-Muslim prejudice is. None of us is Mexican, none of us is Hungarian and none of us is Muslim, but we find such characterisations offensive in a general sense.
We find being pegged as a Black Representative annoying when we’re playing singlet, but it’s a form of invalidation when people do that to us with the full awareness that we’re plural. Last October, Hess had a conversation with another system that turned out to be inadvertently offensive. Hess mentioned our plans to legally change our name to an Irish name, because it sounds like our system name and is androgynous. They told us that the name might seem ‘weird’ on a ‘black person’ because it’s Irish. Besides the fact that we have come across numerous black people with surnames like ‘McCoy’, it’s offensive because it indicates there are Names that Black People Cannot Have. Hess asked them, ‘What would be better? Jamal or something?’ They said ‘no’ to that, but…the way in which that question was phrased implied that we should take a stereotypically ‘black name’.
No, we are not changing our name to Jamal or Latisha for anyone’s benefit. They also asked why there ‘weren’t any black people in our group’, and they noted that they ‘saw our pictures, and they [were] all white’. He was so tired of being pegged as A Black Person, especially by someone who knew that we were separate individuals and not tied to the body. To paraphrase something in the film Mean Girls, you don’t go round asking people why they’re white. Most of us just ARE.
I wonder why they didn’t ask about nationality, with ‘Why aren’t there any Americans in your group?’ (There were no Americans in the group at that time.) That question is also humanocentric — what about the non-human Plures?
The way it was phrased made us feel as though we SHOULDN’T be who we are within the group, and that we should all just be black. It hurt me quite a bit, because I’m one of those people who is very proud of her heritage, and feels the same connection to it as a singlet whose own body matches that background. God forbid I be English and half-Irish. God forbid Richard’s family be English, Italian, German and Jewish. I suppose Hess can’t be half-German and half-Russian any more. We all have to be black, because we won’t be ‘normal’ otherwise. I’m not black. There’s nothing wrong with being black, but I’m not. I’m not Japanese or Finnish, either, for that matter.
I’m glad to say that we’ve settled things with this other system — they now understand this issue, and haven’t said anything like that since. We’ve discussed the issue a few times, and I believe they finally ‘get’ it.
Keep in mind that we don’t think that groups shouldn’t identify with their body heritage if they do. It’s all right to identify with it, but it’s also all right to NOT identify with it.
*At the time of writing. We have two system members of at least some black extraction–one is an African American, and the other one is partially of African descent.