Me Sube La Bilirrubina (It Raises My Bilirubin)

Jose VilsonJose11 Comments

I’m honestly not that arrogant. I just like to call madness out for what it is. Eddie Griffin might be right: I’m insane, and that’s something to be congratulated.

Watching Black in America over the last 2 days, at the encouragement ad nauseum of practically everyone in my Facebook, Twitter, etc., I’ve been somewhat reintroduced to the idea of Blackness and how applicable my own experience is to the ideas brought on by the segments of the show. For one, if we work under the presumption that I’m strictly Black (and not a Black-Latino, or ethnically, a Dominican-Haitian-American), then people who talk to me usually lay a foundation out for my discourse, my actions, and my dress code out of ill-wrought stereotypes. Statistically and upon first review, I’m already a victim of the same discrimination that keeps a million Black men in prison, a million more from attaining the jobs or the promotion that they want, and everyone else from achieving first-class citizenry with those who consider themselves White. We are not a monolith yes, but even in our own dialogues, we tend to indicate otherwise.

The experiences I’ve had, negative and positive in this country, have led me to understand my position as a Black man. Then there are times when my skin textures, color, and facial features are not enough to validate my authenticity as a Black person. That comes from the second level of recognition of a person i.e. my culture. Everything in my exterior might suggest one thing, but the way I speak, the languages I use, the area I decided to teach at, and even my name have always come into contention. On the one end, I can’t be mad; I love gauging the reactions of everyone when I tell them what I’m called, who I date, and my usual dinner (rice and beans, if you must know). On the other hand, it’s a little unnerving to know that, no matter how the dominant culture perceives me, I neither have absolute residence in either camp.

Not that I haven’t written about this before, but someone added a new dimension to that when they asked me the following:

Are you happy with the amount of attention your blog receives?

My response: This isn’t my full time job, so yes, I’m pretty happy with my blog’s successes thus far. Could I use a little more readership? Sure. But I won’t sacrifice why I write for that.

Well, why do you think you may not receive as much attention as some of the more mainstream bloggers?

That’s hard to say, but it could be multiple reasons. It could be because of the aforementioned limits in time, having a job and such. It could be because I discuss education and not always politics or popular culture. Oftentimes, the topic of education becomes marginalized even when I believe it should be at the forefront of our discussions. Most of my commenters are educators on some level themselves. But a small part of me, the same part of me that wonders why I won’t get nominated for certain blog awards because I’m either too Black / Latino or not Black / Latino enough, thinks that it’s because of the identity I’ve undertaken and the way I’ve chosen to express that i.e. I’m Black / Latino, I’m proud, and I’m not going to pigeonhole anyone else strictly based on one part of their being, even if we stand at opposing ends of a topic’s spectrum. Thus, even in cyberspace, we mirror the real world.

Because G_d forbid you’re told by a group of Blacks that you’re only good enough for them when they need the numbers, and not good enough when you’re trying to run your own organization. Heaven knows some group of Latinos is only good when making other Latinos look good, but not very Latino when he or she’s not out in the club or when they don’t fit a certain mold. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been looked at during high school to rap or, in more recent times, slam and speak in staccato. Yet, I can’t unstrap myself from the identities I’ve chosen either. I love my dance, my food, my language, and my people.

We have a hard time looking at ourselves (and I mean all of us), and saying, “What are our prejudices?” Imagine if we asked ourselves questions like, “Why do I use some of the prejudiced statements I do?,” “How am I holding another man or woman back from succeeding in their own right?,” and “How does my presence in my community benefit how my community does?” Sometimes, the answers to those questions shocked me, and I had no one to answer but to myself. The astounding prejudice we face in this country can only be remedied once we look at ourselves and create cogent and logical arguments for why we feel the way we do. Then, we need to let go of some of our prejudices while developing pro-peace and pro-community dialogue and not develop an ego in the process.

But a series on the world’s news leader won’t reveal that. We can go over the problems and quandaries in the Black community as much as we want to, much the way we shuffle cards on a table. We can lay them all out as many times as we want in a million different combinations. Yet, the cards are still there, and we haven’t done a damn thing to take them off. Does it make us comfortable to know that the cards are still there? Even if we somehow push the card to the brink of the table, does it satiate us to just keep the card out of play than actually taking it off completely? I’m not sure, and CNN doesn’t have the answers. Neither do we just yet.

But who’ll be insane enough to work towards it? Who? I guess that’s up to you and your reflection …

jose, who understands as a math teacher why solutions are important …

p.s. – I would link you to the referring Juan Luis Guerra song, but … OK, no excuse. Here it is (“La Bilirrubina“) …

Comments 11

  1. strong deep post.

    I was in a class a couple of years ago, preparing for some difficult times ahead doing work with an organization, and my professor prepared us thus :

    find an area where you are comfortable
    close your eyes
    think of a time, a recent time, when you said or did something for which you feel shame
    think of it, feel the shame, and sit with it for a while
    live with it, it is a part of you
    accept it as such

    We sat with it for a good few minutes, maybe up to 10. A long time to be sitting in a room, in silence, eyes closed, with others sitting with their own private shames.

    When I catch myself thinking/acting on a prejudice I feel shame and it is hard to think about my own prejudices, my own shameful thoughts and actions.

    But this thought needs to be there, within or just prior to the first steps/bars/beats of action.

    I discovered it helps me to clarify what and why I am doing, and helps to align my actions with my beliefs and values. And sometimes also helps to uncover some hidden beliefs and values.

    hot, jose.

  2. Post

    Thanks, Tracy. Yeah, I agree with the professor in a way. When we look at those prejudices, the first emotion that might come up is shame, but it’s the first step in a series of emotions that lead to anti-racist/sexist/classist/etc. behaviors. It doesn’t stop there. It takes a lot of retraining, and a lot of hard work.

  3. very good post (as usual)

    [this comment also doubles as a plea for your presence on 08*08*08 @ 8 for my bday party where your culture is always appreciated & celebrated! *wink*]

  4. “Know thyself,” and, according to the ancient Greeks, you’ll understand other folks. Of course, in today’s world, culture shock and awe is an everyday occurrence, and the learning curve is steeper.

    But I’m still a fan of self-awareness and I’m not wild about labels and pigeon holes.

  5. I’ve personally been struggling with something similar. My dad Americanized our last name, and with a name like Corey, no one is going to expect a Dominican if they read it off a list. So, I want it to be pronounced with a Spanish accent, but because I’m all that’s left of my dad’s legacy, I also have a responsibility to at least keep the name he left me, in the way he left it.

    As for the whole skin color issue you brought up, it’s kind of been a double edged sword for me. It’s easy to tell I’m Latino, but for some darker Dominicans, I’m not dark skinned enough. Suddenly, speaking Spanish, eating the food, and listening to the music isn’t enough.

    Just to make a reference from Common’s “Black Maybe,” it seems that a lot of adversity also comes from our own kind…

  6. i love how you made it personal and then related it to the special. i especially enjoyed the card metaphor. so what do we do about the cards, my friend? are just gonna keep looking at them and shuffling them? or can we find an effective way to get them off the table – either one by one or even a few at a time?


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  8. josé, it’s good stuff. so much of the first incarnation of my blog really wrestled with similar things. And it can be tough to do when so much of the dominant culture discourages explorations along such routes. but i think it’s always helpful to read. i know it is for me, to see others are having their own challenges with identity in this culture. it’s only those who fit squarely in the main of the stream that see such wandering and wondering as unnecessary. which is unfortunate.

    keep hashing it all out my friend, it’s good stuff. and screw the numbers. like you said, its about coming from the heart.


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