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How not to be black: identity in 2012

By       Message Marsha Coleman-Adebayo     Permalink
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Identity is such a complex subject, those eight letters, so simple and they engender so many complex emotions.

This week I was thinking again about my friend and early mentor, Noam Chomsky and how when I met him some three decades ago, at a time when the identity of those who considered themselves on the left was really fragile. President Ronald Reagan ruled as king and those who worked in human rights and social justice were considered a little strange. In those days Noam would get maybe 30 people to a meeting, often the same faces kept coming.   Recently he was at the University of Maryland and it was as though a pop star was there, thousands of people jostled to get into the venue. Campus security had to manage the crowds, even I, as an invited guest only managed to get in for the last few minutes of Noam's talk.

Noam speaks to the identity of many of us who identify ourselves as let-wing and passionate about social justice.

Then the book of a young comedian, How to Be Black has been receiving a lot of airplay. On the website for the book are questions:

1.      When did you first realize you were black?

2.      How black are you?

3.      Have you ever wanted not to be black?

4.      Can you swim?

5.      How's that post-racial thing working out for ya?

by Marsha Coleman-Adebayo

The questions can be amusing or provocative and without having yet read the book, I bet they are designed to be that way.

The dictionary tells us that identity is a noun that is

* the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another: He doubted his own identity.

* condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is: a case of mistaken identity.

* the state or fact of being the same one as described.

* the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time and sometimes disturbed in mental illnesses, as schizophrenia .

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Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is an environmental consultant who when working for the Environmental Protection Agency as a senior executive discovered dangerous mining conditions in South Africa conducted by a U.S. multinational. When she raised the issue (more...)

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