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Color Me a Person

DESPITE feeling comfortable with my brown skin, and coming to joyful terms with my nappy hair, I weary of being black. More accurately, I am tired of being singled out because I am black. Why is it that whenever I read national ``reports'' I hear two sets of results - the study as a whole, then the results of the black participants? What's the purpose? I am human. Period.

I can understand separating people according to age, income, education, family arrangement - or any number of other ways. But I can't understand separation based on color. It's meaningless, insulting, and it smacks of Jim Crow.

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Most people are fair. Tell them an impoverished family needs help and wallets open. Tell them a black family needs help, implying that they need help because they are black, and the response is likely to be, ``Why? My Uncle John's family is having a rough time. Do you mean they can't get help because they're white?''

Unfortunately, it's rare that a report singles out blacks and then reports something positive. All groups get AIDS, but blacks have more of it. All students fail, but black students fail more often. All groups should eat more fresh vegetables, but blacks lag further behind in the eating of them. (Honest, I really read that. It was in a report by the National Center for Vital Statistics.)

What bothers me most is that ``black'' is now used interchangeably with ``poor, underprivileged, and deprived.'' This is reinforced by a report I read in 1985 - a rating of the best schools. Each school was ranked on a quality index that included admission test scores, pupil-teacher ratios, and per pupil expenditures. Each school was also ranked on a hardship index. This included per capita income, poor students (we get subjective here), and minority students. OK. The report did not state ``black,'' or as we say now, ``African-American'' students. But what do you think of when you hear the term ``minority''? Dollars to donuts, you think of someone ``black.''

Why does being a ``minority'' make you an automatic hardship case? Is that fair? Maybe some of these ``minority'' youngsters that automatically detract from the quality index of the school have parents who send them out the door with a kiss every morning, and greet them with a cookie when they return. Just maybe they have parents who supply trips to the library, help them with homework, and provide enriching extracurricular activities. Is it fair to consider such people a hardship to the district? No!

``Black'' is a descriptive word that applies only to physical appearance. When the media insists upon equating the term ``black'' with what is less desirable, they are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Black students reading a national report will subtly hear that because they are black, they are therefore less rich, less capable, and less studious. One's self expectations are drastically reduced. Any teacher coming into contact with such a student will likely assume he or she has an inferior home life, a pot-smoking mother, an absentee father, and a poverty level income. That teacher will be less likely to recommend that child have the advantages of an ``enriched'' program. Why? Because the child is ``black.'' The poor misguided product of a loveless home shouldn't be placed in any potentially stressful situation. The assumption of inferiority fueled by many reports colors the teacher's decisions. Advantages are denied.

Singling out certain groups suggests that group is somehow less than human - or more than human. In any case, it implies a difference.

Such highlighting also denies the internationalizing of the world. Is ``an Indian'' who was born and educated in the United States - who shops in US department stores in air-conditioned malls, and wears the styles featured in US magazines - the same as ``an Indian'' who emigrated to the US at the age of 30, has lived in the US four years, and makes yearly pilgrimages to New Delhi? Is the first person really ``Indian'' at all? And what of marriages between people of different cultures and/or colors? Are we still assuming that the darker parent determines the classification of the child? Even when the child is equally comfortable with the families of both parents?

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I am a person. Value me. Don't burden me with assumptions. Life is hard enough.

Is it important to your study that on the day I participated I was wearing a plaid skirt? Is it germaine to your study that I wear cotton underwear? Is it crucial to report that my skin is brown?

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