Monday, August 16, 2010

Assimilation ... into What?

Johnny Otis' (1921–) autobiographical excerpt below reminds us that every time one speaks of assimilation one needs to answer the question, "assimilation into what"?

His confession brings home the deleterious effects of assimilating into whiteness:

"As a youngster in Berkeley I lived under constant pressure to abandon my social direction [interracial friendships and a propensity to connect with black culture] and become 'white.' I got this at school from teachers and counselors, from white friends, and especially from my mother. My father was not much concerned about race or color one way or another. Having come to America as an adult, he retained much of his European-Mideastern point of view and was basically uninfluenced by New World racism. My mother, on the other hand, had come here as a small child and was raised in this country; she was quite Americanized and held a more negative attitude. In spite of her Christian posture and her American moralistic convictions, she could not bring herself what she felt she believed. She was a wonderfully dedicated and loving mother in every way but one–the one that counted most to me.

There were eighteen long years between the time Phyllis [Walker, a black woman] and I were married and the day my mother was able to finally meet and accept her daughter-in-law" (xli)

Johnny Otis. 2009 [1968]. Listen to the Lambs. University of Minnesota Press.

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