covering our community

Shades of Black: Negotiating Multicultural Identities

BSU President Kaileah Baldwin introduces the student panel at the “Shades of Black” event.
Photo by Dominique Pascua

On February 26, 2013, the University of Portland’s Black Student Union hosted a panel presentation at St. Mary’s Lounge to talk about what it meant to be a black multicultural student. Communication Professor Jeff Kerssen-Griep then discussed the struggles and issues of being multicultural and ways of interacting with the diversity.

Kaileah Baldwin, president of the Black Student Union (BSU), started off with what it meant to be “Black.”

Her presentation provided the “Four Black Americas” by Eugene Robinson: 1) the large abandoned majority, 2) mainstream, 3) small transcendent elite, and 4) the emergent (multicultural) group.

The large abandoned majority are the Blacks who are stereotyped as the less educated, lower income, and more aggressive group.

The mainstream are the Blacks considered middle income, average and good citizens, but who follow what media portrays of them culturally.

The small transcendent elite are the over-achievers (such as President Barack Obama) who gave a name and reputation for themselves and are considered part of the high class society.

Finally, the emergent group are those who consider themselves more than just Black and associate their identity with cultures and values beyond the Black community.

Kerssen-Griep then defined what “multiculturalists” are.

“Are always negotiating who we are? We are indeed,” said Kerssen-Griep.

The three messages that are present in all communication are 1) external content goals, 2) who we are (defined by relationships to one another), and 3) identity-based goals.

Identity-based goals included identity confirmation, rejection, respect, and approval.

He then introduced “Identity Negotiation Theory:” I’m thinking of whom I am and who you keep telling me who I am. In other words, people reaching an agreement regarding their roles in their relationships.

Next, a panel of Black students spoke about their personal and the stereotypical image of a Black African American.

The panel agreed there is a social pressure to be a certain kind of role model; to remember their roots; and to be prepared for the social interactions, stereotypes, values, and expectations that come with being Black.

The panelists recognized the issue of white privilege still in practice today. One of the panelists said he was directly affected by racism and racial profiling by being arrested at ten-years-old by the false premise that he allegedly stole something.

A few panelists said their Black parent/s either tried to shape them into their ideal image of a Black person or warned them that their experiences in life will be heavily affected by their Black heritage.

However, all panel members identified themselves as more than just Black.

According to Cultural Identity Theory, as presented by Kerssen-Griep, multicultural people are identified through self and others. Yet, the ascribed identities should match the interaction.

In other words, even though someone is Black, they may usually ascribe themselves as a classmate first, so the interaction should be one of classmate-to-classmate instead of Black-to-White.

To the “White” counterparts, Kerssen-Griep said that Whites and other ethnicities should and can show their support of Blacks by talking less and listening more. “Speak up, but don’t take over the conversation,” he said.

As a complement to the idea of integrating cultural diversity to match other ascriptions, Baldwin reminded the audience that BSU is not just for Black students.

“If you are Black or just want to learn more about Black culture, please join,” she said.

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