As a Black woman I’ve learned to assimilate, and I’ve felt alienated in situations that I have been in. Throughout the piece “Gee, You Don’t Seem Like an Indian From The Reservation,” by Barbara Cameron, Cameron talks about her experience of being Indian and how it has shaped her life. She speaks about her experiences as a child and how these experiences altered her worldview and how she moves in the world as an adult.
Cameron says in the article “the ‘alienation’ or ‘assimilation’ that I manifest is often in how I speak.” This is something that is very relatable. Growing up, I learned that we have to code switch in certain situations. We speak one way with people like us, but when we’re in professional spaces colloquial speech is looked down upon. I definitely grew up speaking to my friends using slang, but if I were to speak to my manager in that matter it would be seen as unprofessional. Cameron brings up the point of having a way of speaking to her fellow Indians and not speaking like that outside of those spaces. She had to assimilate to the way that people were behaving so that she wasn’t alienated, even though she may have felt alienated by just being seen as another.
I’ve had to assimilate to figure out how to maneuver in places that I was the only person of color, or the only woman. These situations have made me feel alienated and scared to be in that predicament. Going into a room full of people who don’t look like me is nerve-wrecking because I don’t know if these people are comfortable with a person like me being there, or if they don’t want me there so they will make this experience a living hell. Walking into a space where you feel unwanted is scary, because as Cameron mentions, you don’t know if you will make it out alive. These people may not even want to hurt you, but because of all the terrible stories that I’ve seen or heard about white people doing something bad to a Black person that thought is always in the back of my mind. If I say something wrong, make the wrong move, or offend somebody the situation can end terribly, but this could also be paranoia taking over.
Another thing that comes along with be able to code switch is being seen as a token. It’s often a very uncomfortable situation for me. I am able to articulate myself well and people have often told me “you’re so smart for a Black girl” or “you speak so well for a Black girl” and it is almost like a back handed compliment. These people thought I was smart, but because of what they’ve seen or heard about Black people they believe that I shouldn’t be smart. I’m just trying to behave in a way so that I am not alienated, but even so I still manage to feel alienated. Even if I am trying to not make myself stand out more than I already do, I still manage to surprise people and stand out.
It is very annoying that people automatically make assumptions based on what I look like. It is done throughout all races, because I’ve definitely have had preconceived notions about people I knew nothing about. I’m continually trying to unlearn harmful stereotypes and things I’ve heard about races that are harmful to them. It is a cycle because the misinformation is being continually spread, but people are continually working to stop the spread of these horrible stereotypes. There hopefully will come a day where people don’t make judgments based on what we saw on a show or heard someone say. I know we have a long way to go, but hopefully feeling alienated or having to assimilate because people wouldn’t understand your culture becomes nonexistent.
-- works cited --
Cameron, Barbara. “Gee You Don’t Seem Like an Indian From the Reservation.” In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, Expanded and rev. 3rd ed., 47–54. Women of Color Series. Berkeley, CA: Third Woman Press, 2002.