The Act and Feeling of Brown

“When I began working at the institute, I recalled my adolescent dream of becoming a medical research worker. Daily I saw young…[white] boys and girls receiving instruction in chemistry and medicine that the average black boy or girl could never receive. When I was alone, I wandered and poked my fingers into strange chemicals, watched intricate machines trace red and black lines upon ruled paper. At times I paused and stared at the walls of the rooms, at the floors, at the wide desks at which the white doctors sat; and I realized—with a feeling that I could never quite get used to—that I was looking at the world of another race.” —RICHARD WRIGHT, 1944

Maybe because I was always more occupied with questions of life and the universe and the hanging weight of existentialism, but I feel as if I didn’t understand the weight of racism and bigotry in the wide world. I had enough experience with hate and racism in Canada as a kid and it did make me introspective and think about society and the ideas people have, adults supposedly so wise. My brown skin and my majority black and brown friends fostered my identity as an “other” and made me see myself as a concrete individual.

I didn’t get along that well with traditional Indians, I had no truck with the mother land and didn’t have some spiritual connection to ancestors or the culture and identity politics of Indianness. I liked some of it but it was just a series of things to me, variations that people enjoyed and attached to themselves and I was into whatever, still am, I do not park in one lane I dabble and taste everything as I feel like it. Nor did I see any thing in white society as unobtainable or not for me. I was conditioned to see certain jobs and institutions as white which can’t be helped, I felt the superiority coming off whites, this need and placement of authority. They were always in the right and I wasn’t. But I ventured on my own path and did what I felt like, I rebelled a bit, I pushed back and confronted authority plenty of times. I saw the ludicrously and hypocrisy of it all, the lack of reason and the gasp for rationality. Everything seemed stupid.

Has much changed since those days? Am I just an evolved form of an angsty teen and an inquisitive child? Isn’t everyone? In my adulthood I ration and filter cynicism and despair; light pessimism on toast. I see a positive for the slow regurgitation of change and social justice, I am thankful for the perspective my experience gave me. It was painful but we dealt with it, racism, homophobia all this fluff was just more rocks being thrown and we all shovel on, my generation, the previous ones, we become like tanks and just battle hoping the ground will hold…


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