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Literature gives writers of all creeds the vehicle to express themselves in numerous ways – love, hate, fear, sadness, and hope. Writers give their interpretations of life through verse and bring readers of their works into their world for just a moment. Although some may consider race and ethnicity the same, they are totally different. An example of this is in the poems, What Its Like to Be a Black Girl by Patricia Smith and Child of the Americas by Aurora Levins Morales.
Both authors give their view of how race and ethnicity plays a part in one’s life when it comes to even the simplest decision.
Growing up in a diverse community has its advantages. It is amazing to see people trying to guess each other’s race and ethnicity. Innocent as it may seem at a young age to do this, it may have been the precursor to feelings towards the opposite race. The United States is a melting pot of different races coming together for one purpose – to have a good life.
This means raising a family, having a good job, buying a car and home without fear of being discriminated against. In the stories by two diverse women shows how race and ethnicity played a large part in developing their lives.
Race is defined in layman terms as “the concept of dividing people into populations or groups on the basis of various sets of physical characteristics which result from genetic ancestry” (Diffen, 2013). Race encompasses the color of one’s skin (Causcasion – white, Asian – yellow), facial features (African American – physical features, Latinos – height) and so on.
Ethnicity is defined in layman terms as “an ethnic group or ethnicity is a population of human beings whose members identify with each other, on the basis of a real or a presumed common genealogy or ancestry” (Diffen, 2013).
Ethnicity encompasses ancestry of one’s family tree. Some believe they may be the descendants of Roman culture and others feel they are descendants of a culture before the time of Christ. Thanks to modern day technology, most have found they are part of a past culture or cultures – a mixture of cultures. According to the website, Difference Between explains the difference between race and ethnicity as: 1. Ethnicity gives us room to change because we can reject our own and embrace another. You can move from one region to another and assimilate your beliefs, actions and customs to identify with that ethnic orientation.
You cannot do the same with race. 2. Race is your biologically engineered features. It can include skin color, skin tone, eye and hair color, as well as a tendency toward developing certain diseases. It is not something that can be changed or disguised (Difference Between, 2013). In the story, What Its Like Being a Black Girl by Patricia Smith, the author gives the audience an insider’s view into a young black girl’s transition into black woman-hood when being African American (Black) was not as welcomed as being white.
“It’s being 9 years old and feeling like you’re not finished – like your edges are wild, like there’s something, everything, wrong. ” (Smith, 2013). Smith writes that growing up in this era for a young “black girl” is having the feeling of being awkward – her body is changing and people will see her differently. For Smith, this hope is for the opportunity to live a life where she can become a doctor, lawyer or celebrated writer. In addition, a hope that people will see her through eyes of respect for her work and not her skin color or ethnic background.
Author Aurora Levins Morales writes for those struggling to find their identities and their voices – and speaks on issues pertaining to history and the multicultural experience. In the poem, Child of the Americas, Morales gives her views on life as an American of mixed race. It is a poem about an American who came from a mixture of various cultures that comprise her heritage and her identity as an American. “I am a child of the Americas, a light-skinned mestiza of the Caribbean, a child of many diaspora, born into this continent at a crossroads.
I am a U. S. Puerto Rican Jew, a product of the ghettos of New York I have never known” (Morales, 2013). Morales continues “I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return. I am not taina. Taino is in me, but there is no way back. I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there” (Morales, 2013). Morales believes she is a melting pot filled with different ethnic backgrounds but will not be accepted in these native countries because people of that country will only see the outside – her skin color, her hair, her eyes.
We have all done this – guessing the ethnicity of a person – is she mixed with African or is she mixed with German, is he Italian or is he French? We do not get to know the person – we automatically judged them by the way they look. Both Morales and Smith write about what most people in this country are experiencing on a daily basis – racial and ethnic prejudice. However, in the 1970’s, African Americans embraced their African background by donning dashikis and wearing their hair in Afros and braids. This led to most people in this country to investigate their ethnic backgrounds.
Now in the 2013, people are going to sites such as Ancestry to find out about their ethnic and racial history. People want to know more about their past in hopes it will show them where they are going. Even in the writing arena, both authors faced challenges getting their works published because of their race. Luckily, according to author Lee, brave publishers have pushed to have more and more authors of color works published. “Much of the work by mixed-race artists, though certainly not all of it, reveals the fault lines and pressure points that still exist in a rapidly changing America.
It is on these rough edges that many multiracial people live, and where many artists find the themes that animate their work: the limits of tolerance, hidden or unacknowledged assumptions about identity, and issues of racial privilege and marginalization” (Lee, 2011). Still, a small percentage of publishers will not published women of color’s literary works. This is why many ethnic writers have established their own publishing houses and stores, such as Wal-mart, stock ethnic materials from not only well-known authors but those new to the literary arena.
In an article by Martin Arnold detailing his interview with author and publisher Melody Guy, she states, “most of our first novels have an initial printing of between 17,000 and 20,000 copies, and a majority of them went back for second and thirds, and most are paying royalties. ” This is true for other women of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Smith and Morales gives the reader insight into their complicated lives as writers with diverse backgrounds.
Although they differ in race and ethnicity, both encounter the same problems living in a country whose racial make-up is rich with diverse personalities. Smith wrote about growing up with a stigma already attached to her as an African American female wanting to be like her white counterparts. “it’s dropping food coloring in your eyes to make them blue and suffering their burn in silence. It’s popping a bleached white mophead over the kinks of your hair and primping in front of mirrors that deny your reflection” (Spoken Word Academy, 2013).
In Morales’s world, it about being a born in this country, speaking a different language in addition to having a different skin color and being told she is still a foreigner. “I am a U. S. Puerto Rican Jew, a product of the ghettos of New York I have never known. An immigrant and the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants. I speak English with passion: it’s the tongue of my consciousness” (Diaz, 2013). Literature gives writers of all creeds the vehicle to express themselves in numerous ways – love, hate, fear, sadness, and hope.
Growing up in the United States, race and ethnicity is a big issue especially when it comes to finding a job, a home and getting an education. People should not judge each other by their race or ethnicity. Getting to know the person – their thoughts, dreams, ambitions – should be first and foremost. Smith and Morales found a common outlet for their frustrations with life where they live and how they live – literature. With their literary writings about growing up in America struck a familiar cord with many in this land of many races.
It is because of their writings, people can gain a better understanding of how life is on the other side – the diverse side – of life in America. What It’s Like To Be A Black Girl (For Those Of You Who Aren’t) By Patricia Smith first of all, it’s being 9 years old and feeling like you’re not finished, like your edges are wild, like there’s something, everything, wrong, it’s dropping food coloring in your eyes to make them blue and suffering their burn in silence.
It’s popping a bleached white mophead over the kinks of your hair and primping in front of mirrors that deny your reflection. It’s finding a space between your legs, a disturbance at your chest, and not knowing what to do with the whistles, it’s jumping double dutch until your legs pop, it’s sweat and Vaseline and bullets, it’s growing tall and wearing a lot of white, it’s smelling blood in your breakfast, it’s learning to say **** with grace but learning to **** without it, it’s flame and fists and life according to Motown, it’s finally having a man reach out for you then caving in around his fingers. (Spoken Word Academy, 2013).
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