Earlier this month, my coworkers and I presented at the National Conference of Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) in Portland, Oregon. Our presentation was about the Mosaic’s use of Cross’ Theory of Nigrescence to understand social identity development and to lay a foundation for our programmatic series (e.g., What’s the (T)ea?: Social Justice Dialogue Series). Cross’s theory speaks to the psychological “process of becoming Black”. What I find most interesting is how we drew parallels between Black identity development and the development of other social identities (i.e., nationality). Depending on one's circumstances, such as their social environment, some identities may hold more power and privilege than others. However, the parallels we drew reminded me of my belief that we are more common than different. Cross’s foundation also allowed our NCORE team to find ways to improve our programmatic series. This is particularly exciting to me because improved programming can open pathways for more UMBC folk to gain a better understanding of themselves and others. I’m grateful for NCORE as it was our opportunity to welcome others in higher education to forge similar pathways.
Before our presentation, we attended three days worth of workshops, panels, lecture-like sessions, and keynotes. I was most inspired by Walidah Imarisha’s keynote about Oregon’s racist history. Prior to her keynote, I noticed Portland’s charm, progressiveness (e.g., environment-friendly businesses), and its lack of diversity. Fast forward to Imarisha’s keynote where I learned that deep-rooted structural racism is also true for Northern states like Oregon, not only for the Southern states of America. By using her Oregon Black History Timeline, Imarisha explained how systems in Oregon are not broken. In truth, they are working just as intended - to be racist white utopias. Thereafter, my perception of and the way I moved about Oregon changed due to my heightened awareness of the reasons for the lack of diversity outside of Northeast Portland, where most people of color (POC) live.
My experience thereafter reminded me of the time period when I was learning a lot about Baltimore City and its racist history. The long-lasting effects of this history still leaves Black folk at a much greater disadvantage than white folk today. Just like in Oregon, I felt enraged by and in disbelief of the numerous human rights violations against Black Americans. However, as overwhelming as these experiences were, I would not trade them and my questions for ignorance. We should ask questions to challenge injustice and to advocate for equality and equity. Why is West Baltimore so “scary?” Why do most black people live in the Black Butterfly of Baltimore? Why is it that the metro, light rail, and busses do not directly connect West and East Baltimore? Keep asking questions to arrive at truthful answers that challenge how we navigate the spaces we occupy for the purpose of elevating each other with the justice that people deserve.
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