Live Outside the Box

My son is obsessed with the Madagascar movies, all three of them. At any given time, you can hear my husband and I singing, “Circus-afro, circus-afro, circus-afro..polka dot, polka dot, polka dot…AFRO!afro martyIf you haven’t seen them, you don’t have a toddler. If you have, you will agree that one of the most thought-provoking, adult-oriented comments comes in the first movie when Marty, the zebra, is questioning whether he is black with white stripes or white with black stripes. Did I mention that Marty is voiced by Chris Rock?

charlize theron
Charlize Theron, an African-American

Chris Rock. The comedian who dares address race in his stand-up and made an entire documentary about black hair. Yes, I said “black” instead of African-American. Here is why (and what I taught all of my students): Charlize Theron is African-American. She was born in South Africa. But, her strikingly beautiful blond hair and blue eyes are not what the government is looking for when they ask the public to check the box on all forms of paperwork.

Race has always been part of the national conversation, but as reports of Black Lives Matter protests fill our news, and statistics literally line our news feeds, it is impossible not to address the psychology of race.

How (Blank) Are You?

On my website, I confess to being a snob about bagels because I was raised Jewish on the east coast. There is a certain amount of intensity for East Coast Jews that I recognize and embrace. But, I always put a verbal asterisk in a conversation about race by jokingly stating there must be some maple in my family tree to account for my tremendous booty. I also learned early in my career to NEVER call a Hispanic girl a Latina. With all elements of identity, race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc., there is a question as to how close you are to the generic stereotype.

The clinical term to describe different ways people identify with a specific culture is called acculturation. Similar to the discussion about identity in my post, “I Want My Son to Be a Duck When He Grows Up,” each type of acculturation includes factors like age, family traditions, and community. As in all aspects of my counseling, I want to highlight the positive traits of each possible choice.

  • Assimilation: choosing a new culture to REPLACE your native culture. There is a plethora of hateful words spat at these people to highlight their otherness. But, there is a reason the cliche “when in Rome…” exists. The choice to bathe in a new culture shows a brave, inquisitive nature.
  • Separation: fiercely adhering to your native culture by SECLUDING yourself from your host culture.chinatown American cities have Little Italy, Chinatown, Little Bucharest…these are all big examples of creating a home within a home. This decision demonstrates an admirable level of loyalty.
  • Integration: COMBINING both cultures, native and host. This is the mullet of cultural identity. Managing this choice proves you are an optimistic compromiser.
  • Marginalization: REJECTING both cultures, native and host. One of my dearest friends was raised Irish Catholic, spends a lot of time chatting with atheists, and is marrying a Russian Jew. He identifies himself as a buddhist. Those who follow his choice follow his passions for learning and embracing the unknown.

Spark Note Summary

I understand the need for research and statistics that drives the government to ask us to check a box to identify who we are. My problem is that I believe who we are is based on what we do. Next time a form asks, perhaps what YOU do is refuse to fit into a box.

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Amy Slutzky

This blog is about incorporating practical mental health boosters in your everyday routine. I am a wife, mother, sister…I am a counselor, teacher, advocate…I am a sci-fi geek, a public goofball, a faux Top Chef…I can attach dozens of labels to myself; so can you. My life is both unique and common. Read these blogs to make your life a little easier and your mental health a little stronger based on the lessons I have learned.

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