Sunday, March 2, 2008

Self-Imposed Casting

The Caste System is a way of organizing social groups. Throughout history, many societies have created and established very strict social distinctions among its people.

Quick and Dirty: Here is how Casting works
Your parents, grandparents, and their parents before them are all tradesmen – carpenters, blacksmiths, mechanics, etc. You approach adulthood and you want to be professional – doctor, lawyer, merchant, banker, etc. You cannot. You’re locked in. For some historical reason, it was deemed that people from certain levels or castes just aren’t capable of achieving certain kinds of work or higher level thinking. Accept your station in life.

Perhaps the best examples of casting are those once practiced in India and Apartied South Africa. But the United States once had a casting system and some contend still does. Africans (Blacks) were servants and laborers. This caste was institutionalized as Slavery and legally prevented Blacks from having say over their own lives and systematically excluded them from educational and intellectual development opportunities. This meant, even if one wanted to become a professional, the deck was stacked against him. Even after Slavery was abolished, most Blacks were still occupying servant and labor trades and later branched into entertainment. Other groups had their own hang-ups, too.

What I find interesting today is that many Black people still unconsciously buy into this. An example: While teaching a Fair East-side, I recruited some great bright students to do a summer research internship at the university. Now, I’m the only Black graduate student in my department, so I managed to convince my very liberal, mostly white faculty to support this program. The students worked alongside professors and graduate students and made significant contributions to their research projects. As the program came to a close, I realized that most of my students had virtually no family support. They were dogged by their families and accused of wasting their time with those “white folks doing science”. Especially, for the girls, their families told them to focus on more meaningful activities so that they could take care of themselves or ‘get a man’ to take care of them later. Basically, they were wasting their time developing their minds because they should have been focusing on being more domestic. One student wanted to go to college and become an ornithologist, another a marine biologist. Both of their families recommended they become nurse assistants – not even nurses or doctors – but someone’s assistant! They graduated a year ago, neither one is in college yet. I am so upset. These are VERY bright young ladies, but their families were CASTING them.

Now, my employees: Same thing. They just don’t see themselves (truly) as fully capable pre-professionals. They so often count themselves out because they are black or come from a poor black neighborhood. They are casting themselves. The liberal in me is reluctantly conceding to some of Dr. Shelby Steele's points.

Back to Accept your station in life.
This notion seems to the underlying tone in the class struggle of Blacks in America. Whenever colleged or ambitious blacks try to do something more than the rest of their peers, they are often knocked back and told to not get too uppidty. They are teased and sometimes harrassed byt their less-ambitious low achieving black peers. Why is that? If you're having a hard time visualizing this, there are 2 cinematic examples of this self-casting madness.

Example 1: Raisin the Sun. The sister wants to be a doctor and the brother insinuates that "she thinks she's too good", being a doctor is inappropriate for her because she is a female, perhaps because they are are black and poor.
Example 2: School Daze. The Fellas are trying to enjoy some fried chicken and the neighborhood guys are harassing the college boys. In the parking lot, Samuel Jackson's character tells them "you think you're better...but you just Niggas, just like us."

These negative attitudes sicken me because there are enough *other people* who think that Black folk are less intelligent, less motivated, less caring, and less capable of professionalism.
"Accept your station in life. Stop trying to jump caste." Why do some of our people play into that racist madness psychology?

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