Since beginning the CSSA Program at Oregon State University (OSU), I have been hearing about identity development: racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation identity, class identity, and more. I’ve spent a good part of my life doing self-discovery and have worked to “find myself” on various platforms. I grew into my personality in high school. I developed cultural sensitivity and awareness in college. And I learned a whole lot about life, the world, society, and the way people interact with one another in my Peace Corps and other work experiences. But that doesn’t mean that when I got to OSU I was prepared for the bomb about to drop. That bomb, my friends, was this theory of racial identity that defined race as a social construct that has developed our society into systems of oppression and privilege. Race, in essence, was a category created by the white folks to oppress the people of color. Talk about dropping a bomb. I hardly knew what to think or what to say. I’d always thought of myself as an open person. I was one of the “enlightened” members of my family. I was the world changer who joined Peace Corps TWICE to help people, not myself. But that doesn’t mean that I really understood race or what it really meant in our world.
Race is something we white folks don’t really understand. (I apologize for the generalization.) We don’t really delve into what it means to be white. I read an article the other day that it would be good to take white students to NASCAR races or country concerts to investigate the subcultures within the white community. This was weird. I, for one, have stopped listening to country music in the past ten years or so. I never watched NASCAR, but the idea of going to watch NASCAR doesn’t really suit me. I’d rather just sort of… stay home and read my book. But that doesn’t change the fact that NASCAR and country concerts are a part of my culture. I grew up on a farm. My dad was in the military so every weekend, when he was off work, we would do yard work and help do farm projects. I was the youngest of five so I got out of the manual labor on occasion to help my mom fix hot chocolate, coffee, and sandwiches for my dad and siblings. We all were in the FFA, even my dad (not my mom though – she was a city-girl turned country). We all went to the Nazarene church sporadically. All seven of us (both parents and all five kids) attended and graduated from Nazarene Colleges (six of us went to the same institution, my brother Ben went to a different one that had a football program). Our faith was always a part of our identities.
There’s more to whiteness than the things I mentioned above, but to be honest, I’m still figuring out what it means. I haven’t had to think about it before, which is a privilege, I know that, but that doesn’t change the fact that I literally just figured out that being white in this world is actually a big deal. I always bought into the, “Jesus loves the little children” song. You know the one, right? “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” It’s what I was taught. It’s what I believed. Sure I compared my skin tone to others, wishing that I could perhaps get a tannish-brown color like my friend Lena had every winter, but I couldn’t. My pasty skin freckles. This discussion, of course, is rudimentary. It’s so basic that it doesn’t even touch on race, equality, or equity. That’s where I’ve been in my own racial identity for years.
It’s easier for me to define myself in other ways, the things I know, the things I like or care about. I’m going to write a short list of identities I hold and because this month is about being a platypus on this blog, I am going to include that. Please don’t think that if I include humor or other strange identities in my paragraph that I am forgetting about the bomb of whiteness that has exploded in my world. I couldn’t do that. I won’t do that. But I choose to leave this topic open and unfinished, because it’s a process. I’m still learning. And I think I will be learning about this for quite a while.
So here goes.
Who am I?
I am Sharece. I am white. I am American. I am a native Oregonian. I am female. I am heterosexual. I am a college graduate. I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I am a thinker. I am a writer. I am a reader. I am a creator. I am a photographer. I see purple as my defining color. I am a talker. I collect gnomes. I bake. I am a traveler. I am an adventurer. I am a “Mac person.” I press too hard when I write with a pen (so I can feel the bumps on the back of the paper). I am a consumer. I recycle. I belong to the millennial generation. I love things vintage. I own a view-master. I have a driver’s license but no car. I drink tea when I’m feeling blue. I feel blue when I feel alone. I live alone. I love my family. I am the youngest in my family. I am the most outspoken member of my family. I tend to fight with my family. I don’t like conflict. I try to make piece. I have tattoos on my arms to help me remember the things that are important: peace and harmony, the beauty of nature, and the art of writing. I am a contradiction. I have a strong-will, but I want to be led. I have an independent spirit, but I need others to function. I am a platypus. What? you wonder, is this all about? I am a Duck. I am a Beaver. I am a student of both Oregon schools. I have that civil war of loyalty within myself thus I am a platypus.
Tata for now.