WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE?! by Sheryl Felecia Means

"African American, African, Arab, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Columbian, Egyptian, South American, East Indian, Saudi… I have news for you; when people see color we are all the same. They don't distinguish us being one nationality or another. To the world we're the same. If that's how we appear and how we're treated then, why don't we come together? How powerful would we be if people of color united?" - Venus

It was Toni Morrison who shed a modern day light on a late nineteenth century issue when she said, “In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” This concept, basic though it may seem, resonates with old sentiments that are taken for granted today.

The handle “Hyphenated American” first originated between 1890 and 1920 as a way to simultaneously identify and denigrate American citizens of foreign origin. By the year 1904, it was considered a wholly derogatory term and those who hyphenated by placing their country or continent of origin before the United States’ misnomer, America (I will remind readers that there are two Americas), were also seen as placing their loyalties before the nation.

Today, however, American, as Toni Morrison and several others have acknowledged, means white; white of skin, most likely Anglo-Saxon and inherently privileged. It is not until conversation surrounding race, culture and background that a white person’s country of origin is revealed. Many European born citizens have a very strong cultural identity, one that they do not hide in heavy accents and flag appliqués on car bumpers and house windows. While they are no longer overtly persecuted for their nationality, their white skin protects them.

People of color, however, face a very different world.

In a world of black and white – dark and light – there is an entirely separate system of identity. People of color in the United States are very quick to correct those who make assumptions that a very fair skinned young woman is white – “no, I’m Puerto Rican” – and that a very brown skinned young man is black – “no, I’m Jamaican.” However, not once in all the assumptions has the understanding come that, in “America” identity only skin deep, based solely on the first impression and entirely on outward appearance.

As Venus has stated, nationality is an afterthought. It’s the racially ambiguous that are promoted in media because they can appeal to all the demographics that this country chooses to ignore. Can I tell the truth? Race, in and of itself, is a social construct. You have all been fooled. UnderstandingRace.org teaches part of the story but there’s so much to say that even I can’t put it all in one post. Besides all this, the terms Black and White were designed to create a social and mental construct.

After all, Black is associated with darkness and dirtiness and White is associated with light and cleanliness.

It saddens me that people really don’t believe that the past is reflected in the present. I’ve come to an understanding that for white people, it’s something they’re literally trained to ignore. They don’t understand because they’re never on the other side of a driving while black charge or being threatened daily by immigration. I’m not excusing their ignorance and refusal to acknowledge these problems but, it’s something worth mentioning.

However, if you’re a person of color and you ignore it… "what, exactly, is your excuse?"

Sheryl Felecia Means is a recent graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Originally from Newark, New Jersey, Means has high aspirations that she hopes to bring to reality through educational and social reform. She currently works as a Marketing and Communications Analyst for the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce. She has applied to several graduate school programs in the Midwest in the hope of beginning the second chapter of her education. Doctoral work is the ultimate goal for Miss Means as she follows in the footsteps of her paternal grandfather, Dr. Fred E. Means, former dean and educator.
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*As the proud Godmother of Sheryl(Shortpockets)it is my pleasure to present the work of such a brilliant writer.


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