Last semester, I took an introduction to anthropology course because I thought it would be interesting to learn about other cultures and societies. This class taught me many valuable concepts, but one word that stuck out to me was the word, positionality. Positionality refers to how anthropologists define their background and how their identities influence their research. I found this quite interesting, because it made me examine who I am and where I fit in the big picture of society and race relations.
I am a Chinese American, adopted when I was 16 months old by a white couple living in New Jersey. My parents are also Jewish, so I practiced Judaism, went to Friday night services and Hebrew school – it was a big part of my life growing up.
Through acknowledging my positionality, I can then start to understand other people who are different from me on various levels. This concept also applies when talking about race and race relations. It is crucial to know where you fit into this conversation before you can understand other people and talk about the complicated topics of race.
But, it gets more complicated when I think of how growing up with a white family, while being Chinese by birth has impacted my outlook on race and racism. I always knew I was Chinese and adopted, but in some ways, I have had some of the advantages that a white person has in northeast America. This was a consistent thought I had throughout the semester, and I am still developing ways to think about my background.
This class has made me think about some ways I can talk about race, help people be aware about racism in society, and help put an end to it. Before this semester, I had the mindset of shutting down my brain every time something complicated such as race came up in conversation. Now, I have the tools to think through complicated and sometimes painful ideas about race and ways that I can talk to other people about them. In his book, “Race Talk,” Derald Wing Sue talks about how individual people can be facilitators of change by following guidelines and strategies he outlines in his final chapters. Some of his guidelines are to learn about people of color from sources within the group, learn from acknowledging your own biases and fears, and learn from being committed to personal action against racism. Some strategies are understanding about one’s racial/cultural identity, being open to discussing topics of race and racism, understanding emotions, do not allow difficult dialogue to become silent, and understand differences in communication styles.
The suggestions Sue makes can be daunting, but I think that if we can set small goals for ourselves that we can do every day, such as watching the news, or reading books such as “Race Talk,” we can start to understand the underlying problems in our society and help make change toward a more aware and open-minded society. How does your positionality influence your outlook on race and racism, and how can you contribute to this complicated conversation?