Watson Fellowship Personal Statement
Understanding race and color is an objective to which I absolutely have a long-standing commitment and not just because it is such a visible part of my own life but because of my commitment to serving humanity. Since I was a small child my white mother told me that I could do anything I wanted to, be anything I wanted, and that all my potential and activities needed to be directed toward something more than just myself. We do not live in this world alone, the things that hurt some, hurt us all. We share a collective history of cruelty. It is tragic, but we cannot change the past, however we can change the future. Gandhi said, "We must be the change we wish to see." I live my life according to this principle and I live my life unfettered by assumptions and beliefs about race because I want a future where race is not considered before a person's humanity.
It is this boldness of not being hampered by an imposed race or color identity and the behavior that society decrees for a specific skin color that has allowed me to go anywhere I wanted and do anything I could imagine. This freedom was fostered by my diverse family. Being raised surrounded by different tones, shades, and personalities made it normal and enjoyable to become acquainted with people of different colors, cultures, languages, and backgrounds. Some people do not feel this freedom. When I was young some black people told my mother that I acted like I was white because it was obvious to them that I felt free. According to them, I had no proper sense of my imposed limitations; I had not inherited a feeling of disenfranchisement because of my color.
I disagree with this notion that being a person of color means that you ought to be in pain, suffering under a burden of a terrible past that is somehow in the very melanin of your skin, as though the more terrible the past atrocities the darker you are. I choose to not let this idea be real for me. We create our own reality and I do not recognize pain as my inheritance. My skin is dark, yes, but my future is not. I find it ridiculous and laughable that while I enjoy my life so much and feel so comfortable in my skin other people feel so uncomfortable in their skin that they feel conspicuously out of place most of the time. I can only guess how shallow and unfulfilling such a life must be. I see simultaneously my own reality of limitless possibility and the global reality of black disenfranchisement, terrible history and pain. I seek to do this project so I can truly understand the global perspective on race and maybe this exchange will offer a new view of reality. Then maybe people could choose how they view their own skin and realize that it only signifies something or limits them if they believe it does. To change color stereotypes and assumptions the entire world would need to change. But in the meantime, we all have a choice of how we construct our view of the world. I prefer freedom and limitless possibility.
Since I was a child I enjoyed community service and getting to know people. I noticed that there were people of all colors who seemed to be content with less from life than what was offered. With these living examples, my family's beliefs became clear, people are people and how a person acts, what they reach for in their life is not limited or enabled by their skin color. It is up to the individual. As one of only five minority students in my rural high school of five hundred I was able to become president of my high school and valedictorian despite issues that were raised because I was a minority. I then earned a full academic and community service scholarship to the Colorado College. I have created my own major titled "Cross-Cultural Studies in Race and Class" and my academic focus has been on learning more about how our world operates, what makes people disenfranchised, how race, color and class fit into disenfranchisement, and what we can all do if we want to make our world better.
National and local scholarships, in addition to my academic scholarship, have enabled me to travel around the world conducting my own independent studies on race, color, and class. I have studied in Bali, Peru, Italy, England, Brazil, and India, however the work is still not complete. I am dedicated to increasing understanding of these issues and I am eager to put all my travel and academic experience to the service of absolutely making this fellowship year the most successful, productive, interesting, and enlightening study I have ever completed. I feel this extensive study of race and color is the fulfillment of all my work in my academic career.
In the future I intend to be a published author of books about the remarkable and astonishing realities that I know will be revealed about race and color. These two unremarkable yet incredibly potent physical attributes have some significance in the lives of every single person on this entire planet. No person is exempt because everyone has a race and everyone has skin. While ideas and beliefs about these two things influence almost everything in our lives and almost all of our interactions with other people, we still do not have a clear understanding of what is so important about them. Skin holds your bones in, race is a necessary part of our DNA which allows us to exist, skin comes in different colors, and races can have some identifiable physical characteristics, SO WHAT? Why are race and color so important in our lives, why has race been used to justify enslaving human beings, why is race used to justify certain behaviors, why are race and color so important that people have killed and died for them?
I am just beginning my study into this fascinating, affecting, emotional, historical, political, social, cultural, economic, personal, and global issue of race and color that collectively we have barely begun to comprehend. This project will help me move further in the quest to understand and explain. Naturally race and color have affected my life and my studies but the following story is just one example of how it affects other lives, innocent lives. I think this story is part of why I am so very passionate about understanding this issue.
Andrew came to my family when I was sixteen years old. At three days old he was on a respirator and a heart monitor. He suffered a traumatic birth and his health was fragile. After several months his health improved drastically. The doctor asked us what we were feeding him and we said, "Nothing special, it must be all the love." We were committed from the start to adopt Andrew and began the proceedings to do so. Everything was fine, progressing right on schedule, when a problem arose. Mrs. Brown, not a blood relative, the grandmother of Andrew's half-brothers and sisters, came forward and demanded custody. Prior to placing my brother in our home the Department of Child Services had approached Mrs. Brown about adopting Andrew. She said she didn't want him, didn't want this precious, miraculous child. However, once she discovered my mother was white, circumstances changed. Mrs. Brown was already caring for her son's children, several of whom had debilitating health conditions. Against court order, she allowed her son, who had been convicted of sexual and physical child abuse, open access to his children. And now, she wanted to put Andrew at risk.
Andrew attached to us and we to him. We were his family, we could offer a loving environment, and a bright future filled with possibilities. Mrs. Brown had no legal claim; She had already refused him once. And it was not really love or desire for Andrew that motivated her; rather, she was motivated by race and color. Mrs. Brown said that a black child could not be raised "black" by a white woman. She claimed she had been raised in the Deep South and had been railroaded and mistreated all her life because she was black and if Child Services tried to deny her claim she would take them to court and sue them for racial discrimination and then she would "get" the case workers. I wonder what damage an embittered sixty year-old woman could do? Physically, I don't think she could do much, if any, damage. Her actual threat to the Child Services workers was mental.
The workers were intimidated by Mrs. Brown's claim of racial discrimination because she was black. They were so threatened by her "blackness" and whatever imagined power it imbued that they acquiesced to her demands and opted to sacrifice the stability, health, and safety of an innocent child, just to placate this black woman. In efforts to satisfy Mrs. Brown, Child Services even violated the law. It is illegal for Child Services to place children in homes based upon race and it is illegal to take a child from a home once they have been there for 90 days without due cause. Andrew had been with us for well over 90 days, there was no cause to take him yet they attempted to anyway and we had to hire an adoption attorney to ensure that Andrew's rights and our rights were upheld.
Until race and color were made an issue, there was not even a question of taking Andrew from our home; in fact, Child Services encouraged us to adopt him and reassured my family that there were no impediments. Child Services bought into the myth that a child should be raised in a certain way because of their skin color, that it is possible to raise someone "black" and achieving this mythical state of "blackness" was worth engaging in illegal activity and sacrificing a child's happiness and safety. They literally believed that because of her skin color my mother was unable to successfully raise a black child, regardless that she was married to a black man or had three grown black children. A similar skin tone somehow made Mrs. Brown's home with a history of sexual and physical child abuse better than our safe, stable, and loving environment. Just because a child is black somehow they need or deserve less than the best environment and the greatest opportunities? I don't think so. When we finally got to court the white judge didn't think so either. He ruled in our favor and admonished Child Services to follow the law.
This is just one of the dramatic stories I have experienced where assumptions and beliefs about race and color were allowed to become more powerful and significant than they should be. We can choose to be victors rather than victims of this fixation that our country and our world have with race and color. For us to be victorious these issues need to be rigorously studied, challenged and changed. I am committed to being a part of that change for my brother's sake, for my own, and for the many, many children that deserve the best not because of their color but because of their humanity.
References: Gaye Scheafer and Rochelle Mason. The reason I have chosen these references is because they know me best and have seen me through more phases of my academic career than any faculty member. However if you cannot use them because they are Administration, two faculty members are Brian Rommel-Ruiz and I Made Lasmawan. Another faculty member is Adrienne Seward.
Watson Fellowship Proposal 2003-04
Adrian Lauren Davis
During the time of colonization in Australia classifications based upon racialized difference led to individuals and groups of people having to live their lives within categories based on skin color. Colonizers forced Aborigines into categories according to their degree of blackness, such as 'half-caste', 'quarter-caste', 'quadroon', 'octoroon', etc. According to non-Aboriginal 'experts' and policy makers, Aborigines deemed to be whiter in color could be absorbed more easily into white society.
According to indigenous Australian Wendy Brady in "A Black and White Dialogue"
|"Individuals in Australian society still carry the impact of colonization in various forms. It surrounds us in the built and natural environment, in systems of communications, social structures, expressions of belief, interactions between ourselves and others, and within our bodies and minds. There is a multiple layering of identifiable and hidden manifestations of race, color, identity, place, background and connection. These layers have come from our generations of knowledge and from the imposed notions of who constitutes a grouping of people."|
Amongst indigenous Australians these layers contradict. I want to study what life is like for these indigenous Australians for whom the layers of imposed identity contradict, the half-castes. I want to understand and study their condition from the perspective of an Aborigine. I also want to compare the "black Aboriginal experience" to the "black American experience." My understanding and academic study of race relations and racism are primarily those of the United States. For twenty years I have studied what it means to be a black American, race relations, and racism in the United States. At the same time, I have also studied what it is to be a white American and to be an American devoid of color. I am black, I am bi-racial, I am white, I am an American without a color identity, I am Egyptian. I simultaneously possess many contradicting identities and lack any imposed identity. It is only possible to understand the shifting identity and experiences of race/color of peoples of color from the perspective of a person of color.
In Australia and the United States imposed identities based on skin color have existed since the inception of our countries. The imposition of color identity does not lie with a historical recognition of some inherent difference, but more so in charging color difference with power, social and economic status coupled with confrontations over systems of belief, and psuedo-scientific notions of which race constitutes the pinnacle of humanity and civilization. These threads form the identities of different peoples around the globe, and connect people, especially those who have ever been subjected to, or engaged in, a process of colonization (Wendy Brady). I share with the Aborigines connecting threads of multiple color identities, a national memory of race subjugation, a history of colonization, and the contradictory identity of liminal peoples caught between a historical race identity and a modern need to integrate into society.
Our similar identity conflicts and my ability to blend into Australian society as an Aborigine is why I am the right person to do this project. The project must be done because colonization may be over but its reverberations are still felt throughout all societies. Today, even if one's own country was not colonized, immigration and technology make it impossible to live in a bubble unaffected by the fallout of colonization and race discrimination. Even if you personally are unaffected, someone around you is affected, and their affliction will become yours. Racial tension and violence spreads like a disease. Because color is immediately identifiable it is used to judge people before we even know them or speak to them. The existence of color differentiation and attributing color with stereotypes and beliefs is what allows for discrimination, racism, and violence. Our countries and our world are still shaken by explosions of racial violence. We cannot move beyond this state if we do not understand it. We must gain understanding of more than just our own country and our own individual experiences with race and racism. We are a global community and we must gain a global understanding of this sickness that plagues all countries with any people of color, from South America to China. Why is it that people of color, indigenous or otherwise, have been historically subjugated and how do we all survive now, together, in a world that has a history of racial separation and discrimination?
During my 12-month fellowship year I seek to answer the question above. I will travel to the urban centers of Australia, locate Aboriginal people and conduct an ethnographic interview process to gain their perspective on issues of race and color in Australia. I will also document my experiences as a perceived Aborigine. People speak English in Australia, as do I, so I have the language facility I need and once I perfect my Australian accent I will be able to blend in as an Aborigine. For my project, it is not my intent to merely interview the "Other" about their "Black Aboriginal Experience." I think this type of alienated study has already been conducted in both the United States and Australia; even I have been interviewed about my "Black Experience." Rather than examine the clichi of a generic and generalized "Black Experience" I want to become friends with the people I meet and have an equal exchange about issues of race and color. I want to answer questions about the United States and integrate into an urban Aboriginal community (if one exists) as myself, as a person, not a scientist come to examine the natives. With their permission, I intend to conduct a traditional ethnographic interview process as well, including questions such as:
I will begin my fellowship year in August 2004. I will spend my entire year in Australia. In each city, I will replicate my plan of settling in the center section of the city, then, if it exists, integrating into the Aboriginal Australian community, from one of these two locations I will venture into the city and the surrounding community, probably via public transportation but possibly by car if appropriate, and find the Aboriginal people I wish to speak with. As I get to know people I will conduct informal exchanges of information then, with their permission, I will conduct a traditional ethnographic interview with a tape recorder. I will also document my own experiences as a perceived Aborigine as I travel the country incognito facilitated by my skin color. If possible, I will do volunteer work at an Aboriginal community center. In each city I will augment the above frame project with research at specific museums and locations of Aboriginal history and culture, utilize the resources of local universities and discuss my project with students studying similar topics and solicit the expertise of local professors, visit government buildings and if possible speak to policy makers about race and the law in Australia.
During my 12-month fellowship year I will travel to the following Australian cities: Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Cairns, Brisbane, Alice Springs, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart, and Darwin. I plan to go to Cairns for the first month, but following that, the order in which I visit each city and the duration of my stay depends upon my findings, i.e. accessibility to people, local Aboriginal events, and opportunities to conduct in-depth studies of the political, economic, and social issues that affect Aborigines.