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I didn't know if I was going to participate in this forum or not, but after reading all the exercises and answers I feel compelled.

I moved permanently to the South after being raised in metro California, living for a short time in New York City, going to school in New Orleans, and having spent significant time in Switzerland and some other countries overseas. I was raised in a community where "minority" meant hispanic. They were bussed in from border towns mostly and tended to self-segregate and speak only spanish when not in class and tended to avoid extracurricular activites or clubs so my school interaction was rather limited. I worked side by side with many in my years as a waitress and my mother had a series of mexican women, all from the same family, who came on day visas to work and would help my mother clean the house once a week.

My interaction with blacks growing up was pretty limited. (Side note: my best friend in college was from Trinidad and got very annoyed with people labeling him as African American on asumption and so schooled me to stay away from the label unless I knew with certainty the origin of the person I was "labeling"). In my high school of 2500 there were probably fewer than 10 blacks. I have thre cousins who are mixed (Black father, Jewish/European mother) and they were the basic extent of black influence on my younger life - but really... half black jewish girls are not really the norm when it comes to black culture in America.

What all this babbling is getting me to is graduate school. I moved to the South to go to grad school and ended up staying. It was a private school and about 1/5 of the student body was black. I was never keen on checking the "race" box on applications or questionaires and had skipped it on my grad school application as well. Since they didn't know what I was and couldn't pigeon hole me by my own declaration (which I just hate anyway - talk about institutional segregation) I received everything in the way of orientation materials. I got a letter from the head of the hispanic student society, the asian american society...and then something caught my eye. It was an invitation to attend "Minority Orientation" And I thought to myself "what the heck IS this?" I know I'm in the South and they're all supposed to be steroetypical white oppressors still trying to hold the black man down post Civil War but why is there a minority orientation? Do they think minorities are dumb and need addittional orienting since this is an extra week of preparation on top of regular orientation. I both intrigued me and pissed me off - so I decided to attend.

When I walked into the room it was me (the only white girl, more specifically eastern European mutt), 20 or so black first years and one half Japanese boy. The Japanese boy didn't come back the second day. It was really odd. The students were very nice and we all got on well. The teachers participating were all black and all seemed a bit startled by me down there in the front row. It was sort of an unsettling feeling. There was this one teacher who came in and began talking about "relations" with other students and when he realized i was there his focus and intention changed dramatically. I was caught off guard. What would he have said had he not noticed me? What could he possibly have intended to say that needed to be quelched because there was an "other" in the room.

In the end, it was a week of the exact same information that was then rehashed in regular orientation. I was a little annoyed because it still implied that either the minorities needed to hear it twice or some person up the food chain felt the minority students needed something "just for them" kinda like the Miss black America pageant even though there's still an integrated Miss America pageant that has certainly seen its share of minority winners. I just didn't get it. If we are supposed to be moving towards embracing all races without distinction (especially in the face of so much intermixing already which makes any line very difficult to draw) then why self segregate at all.

Despite my general thoughts on the whole thing, these were the students whith whom I had spent more time than any others by the end of the first two weeks of school so I joined the Black students association. I had made many friends for whom race was not an issue - but I had been talked down to in an almost bible-thumping sort of way by a few minorities who thought I was out of place and totally ignorant to the plight.

In the end, or by midyear I should say, I had developed close friends who were not minorities as well and several of my black friends chose not to hang out with me if it was in predominantly white groups. It was very odd for me to see. I really wanted to learn more about the racial tensions in the South and in general since it was all such a foreign thing to me. What I ended up with was no one really wanting to talk about it - they just wanted to go on the way they were. For those who wanted me to be an appologist just because of the color of my skin, they were angred by my innocence and my reluctance. They called me ignorant. However, I feel there is a very big differnce between ignornace and innocence when it comes to these things. I would rather try to mend a bridge with an innocent anyone than and ignorant person.

I believe that it is not necessary for me to tell you the sufferings of my culture or my family at the hands of communism or Nazis in order to be someone's friend, contemporary, and equal. My racial, familial or personal history does not change my relationship with those around me just as anyone else's should not change their relationships or ability to interact with the world. Perhaps I am naive, an idealist, I don't know. But the concept of a racial divide seems like it is given additional fuel and life just by talking about it and rehashing it instead of spending that some energy on just being good to eachother. Please call me an idealist and not ignorant if you must.
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