Author Archives: india.henderson

Racial Authoethnography (Part 3 of 3) – India

Racial Autoethnography (Part 3 of 3)

This is the third and final part of my racial autoethnography for T. Mauricio’s class. It is not the whole part of the last 5 pages, because some of it was too personal to share online, but it most of it! Hope you enjoy! Image result for race

Right away when I came to Westtown’s campus, I noticed a difference in the way race was discussed. Not only was it addressed in all settings–my Peace and Justice class, in assemblies, in clubs, in Meeting for Worship–but it seemed like many people actually wanted to talk about it. There were also black students who were more vocal about their experiences at the school and outside of it in terms of race. Many of the stories and experiences that I heard were very similar to my own: not knowing what to do when a white classmate says the n-word, how to deal with or respond to ignorant comments about black hair, journeys of navigating a predominantly-white institution in general, etc. I was moved hearing them share stories so similar to my own, and by second semester, I joined SUMAA (Students United for Multicultural Action and Awareness) with a Latina friend. I desired a space where I, too, could speak freely about how I felt about my race and learn new things about myself and the experiences as I shared. Continue reading

Racial Autoethnography (Part 2 of 3) – India

Racial Autoethnography (Part 2 of 3)

In addition, my early education at Westtown School, a historically and predominantly white institution, contributed to the way I experienced and thought about my racial identity. All of my teachers were white except for two during my whole elementary school experience and race did not come up too many times beyond Black History Month, or our slavery or Civil Rights Movement unit, but I do remember feeling conflicted about the way I thought about my own race. For example, there were times when I felt allowed to be proud of black people in general, during our jazz unit, or our black poetry unit, etc., but I never felt like I could be proud of myself as a black individual. Possibly because of our school’s mission for equality and essentially, “colorblindness”, we were taught that race was not something we should really think about or care about. As Bonilla-Silva suggests, dominant racial frames, or in this circumstance, the white racial frame, “provide the intellectual road map used by rulers (my white teachers and peers) to navigate the always rocky road of domination and… derail the ruled from their track to freedom and equality” (Bonilla-Silva, 74). I believe this colorblind ideology created less opportunities for me to recognize and be proud of my blackness. Continue reading

Racial Autoethnography

Hello everyone!

Henry and I were tasked with writing a racial autoethnography for our most recent project in our sociology class. What is an autoethnography, India? Don’t worry, I had no idea either. Here was part of the rubric we were given by T. Mauricio. I found it extremely helpful:

“Ethnography is one of the central methods of sociological inquiry. Its central epistemological assumption is that the sociologist can enter a field—be it a working-class town in the Midwestern US, a village of Zapatista resistance fighters in Mexico, or a fraternity chapter house—and generate knowledge through careful attention to how people make sense of their own world, how they’re positioned relative to others in their social environments, and how their institutions are organized. In this paper I want you turn your ethnographic eye towards your own experiences, treating yourself as the field of research. In this paper I want you to consider two open-ended questions: How has race impacted your life? How has race affected your trajectory into-and time at-Westtown School?” (Torres). Image result for young black girl painting

Here are the first two pages of my final draft:

Racial Awakening: An Autoethnography

By India Henderson

Despite the stories my mother tells me about my first racial realizations, the first time that I truly remember recognizing my own race–or rather, my difference–was in the 4th grade. We had just started our slavery unit, the lights were out, and a film about the history of slavery in America was playing. I do not remember anything specific about the film, but I do remember feeling particularly embarrassed watching it–the sad, helpless-looking Africans were being stolen from their homes, and it felt awkward that those powerless people looked a lot like me and my family and nothing like many of my peers. My eyes floated around the classroom where all I saw mostly white skin. I was ashamed to realize that if we were living in the time in which this film took place, I would have been the slave and they would have been the slaveowners.

It was not until later that year when we began studying immigration to the U.S. and Ellis Island that I would truly understand how my ancestors arrived on this continent. Our 4th grade class was tasked with researching the origins of our last names. When I went home and asked my parents about what they knew of our last name, I was surprised to learn that Henderson and Redd–my last name and my grandmother’s maiden name–were Irish and Scottish. That was when I was greeted with the same reality that many African-American children must eventually come to terms with during their adolescence. “This country was born in blood and violence against non-European “others”… These colonists and their descendants enriched themselves by what was often a process of genocide directed against indigenous peoples. Soon, too, they or their descendants enslaved Africans to work these appropriated lands” (Feagin, 35). My ancestors did not come here because they wanted a better life like those who came through Ellis Island, but rather, they were brought here by greedy people who ripped them out of their homeland. Although there were Hendersons and Redds who came through Ellis Island, none of them were family members of mine. These names were given to my family because they were the names of our slaveowners.

Learning this information was shocking for me. For much of my elementary school experience, I knew that I was black–a different color than that of most peers, the same color as my best friend, lighter than my dad, darker than my mom–but before this moment it was not that important. It was just a fact of life. You breathe, I breathe, you are white, I am black.

In looking back on my childhood, I am surprised that it took me so long to start thinking about my “blackness” and its historical significance, but I also recognize that my parents and grandparents most likely had everything to do with this by their intentional actions throughout my young life.

“Acts of oppression are not just immediately harmful, but carry long-term effects. In the social science literature, much has been made of the impact of historical racism on black families, subculture, or values…” (Feagin, 22). My black family members have lived through many different decades and experiences and that affect the way they view the world and, thus, the way they desire for me to view the world. My parents were both born in 1966, the year before the historic Selma to Montgomery marches and Bloody Sunday and two years before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. My grandparents were born in the 1940s, a decade where Jim Crow segregation was alive and well–from “separate but equal” education and housing, to lynching and other horrific and commonplace hate crimes.

I do not necessarily see this as a “disadvantage” but rather an extra burden or “cost” to the lives of my black family and black people in general in America (Feagin, 22). Whether it was my mom making sure that I had lots of black dolls and books, or my grandmother making sure that I was being exposed to black art, music, and culture, I was raised by a group of people who wanted me to feel confident and proud in my skin because they feared that for some reason, if they did not do these things, I would not.

Work Cited

Feagin, Joe R. Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. 3rd ed., New York [u.a.], Routledge, 2014.

What I Wanted To Hear From My President on February 1st – India

 

On the first of the month, Donald Trump held a breakfast and “get-together” to celebrate Black History Month in the White House. The video below is from that meeting. My comments on the video will make the most sense if you watch the video first.

While I recognize that this was just the first day of Black History Month and there is (hopefully) more celebrating and conversations to come, I am saddened with the way that Trump started off. Not only was he reading from a script with the most basic information about Black History, but within the first 60 seconds of the meeting he begins talking about false racist accusations against him and tries to clear his name. It actually happens many times throughout the meeting that the subject is changed to something that has to do with him and while I am not sure of the exact intentions of this meeting, I do not think that we need to be taking that much time to talk about Mr. Trump (or rather him taking that much time to talk about himself). It comes off as if he is doing this all for the press or for his image. It does not feel genuine in my opinion.

Another thing that Trump fails to do in the introduction is say the words “race” or “racism” or “systemic racism” (but I wasn’t expecting that last one), which I feel is extremely problematic as the quote that I have been using from Joe Feagin’s Racist America basically states that, “Structures of domination shape everyday existence, but an insightful understanding of these structures and their recurring contradictions can assist people in forcefully resisting racial oppression.” He instead says that he wants to better schools, create more jobs and better wages, and safer communities. All great things, but why is this problem a problem in the first place? Name the problem, Mr. President!

While Feagin’s remarks and my statement may feel unrelated to Trump’s meeting or Black History Month in general, I firmly believe they are related. If we cannot address or even name the major problems we are having, how can we begin to fix them? While potentially unintentional, it seemed as if he is trying to cover up or talk around the greater issue of systemic racism in our country. We cannot “resist racial oppression” if we cannot name that it is there and as we move on in his presidency, I would like to dig deeper into why he is doing this and where his motivations lie.

My thoughts on James A. White Sr.’s “The little problem I had renting a house”

“Fifty-three years ago, James A. White Sr. joined the US Air Force. But as an African American man, he had to go to shocking lengths to find a place for his young family to live nearby. He tells this powerful story about the lived experience of “everyday racism” — and how it echoes today in the way he’s had to teach his grandchildren to interact with police.” – Ted.com

Blatant racism. Although others in this story may have tried to make it seem as if it had nothing to do with race, or there were just “no more vacancies”, I know, they know and James White and his family knew that they received the “no’s” they did because they were black. There is no way around it.

The story that James White shared is one that thousands, if not, millions of Black Americans experienced and still experience today. It seems a bit crazy, or completely “insane” as Mr. White puts it, but this is reality too many people.

In class we have talked a lot about how the history of the housing market in our country is deeply entrenched in racism. For years, Whites have had lots of “economic incentive” (based on the fact that houses were family’s greatest investment at the time) to leave neighborhoods that Black people were moving into or simply not let them live there at all. The practice of “blockbusting” (Links to an external site.) was very common. You may also have situations like the one in Raisin In the Sun where groups claiming to help improve neighborhoods actually pay Black people not to move into the houses they’ve bought in all-White neighborhoods. The lengths (White) people went through truly were “insane.”

What I found most fascinating about this video was his remarks on his family and conversations he has had with them about their own experiences. Firstly, I thought it was interesting that he had to point out in the beginning that none of his family members had served any jail time or had teen pregnancies and that they all were getting a good education. My first thought when hearing this was, “Great, but I wonder when Black people will be able to enter a conversation where they do not have to mention or prove at all that their family members have not had those problems.” Why is it that White people never begin conversations about their families in that way? Well, I believe I know the answer, but when will American society understand this and want to change it?

I enjoyed the advice that he tells his grandchildren and admire the way in which he strives to live out his life. Although not having the “luxury to be angry,” he takes his passion and dedicates himself to challenging racism wherever and whenever he sees it. I was inspired by his words as “systemic racism” often seems like an awfully large task to begin to analyze and eradicate and he made it sound like something anyone could do. He said if we elevate our “level of societal knowledge, awareness, and consciousness, we can truly begin to do this.

I believe these were Mr. White’s words for saying that people need to awaken to the realities of systemic racism and the fact that this problem has not gone away (only taken other forms) in order to most effectively eradicate the issue. This was exactly what I read from Joe Feagin’s book, “Structures of domination shape everyday existence, but an insightful understanding of these structures and their recurring contradictions can assist people in forcefully resisting racial oppression.”
This is something we have discussed a lot in class and something I felt this man has said so eloquently in his TedTalk. I am excited to further “challenge the insanity” in my own life that for years I have been afraid of confronting.

Week 1 of “The Sociology of Race, Power and Inequality”

My independent study is very different from others in the sense that it starts off as an intensive college course and ends with my own research. The course is called “The Sociology of Race, Power and Inequality” and is taught by T. Mauricio Torres ‘08 who actually taught this course at Syracuse University last year. Continue reading

An Insightful Understanding – India

Prior to reading Joe Feagin‘s Racist America and enrolling in this course, race for me felt inherently linked with emotion. I knew, from experience, what it felt like to be a Black woman. I knew from my grandparents about my enslaved ancestors. I knew from my parents about how to converse with White people who could not comprehend how their privilege still functioned today. The one thing that had always been difficult for me to weave together was the connection between each of these events. Continue reading