Ernest Owens | Not another black guy at Penn
The Ernest Opinion | Why our personal bonds should replace racial categories
January 13, 2012, 12:35 am·
The Ernest Opinion
“You have nothing to contribute to the black community.”
I have heard a version of this numerous times from critics about my involvement on this campus.
But the most notable time these words were uttered was at a recent election, where one of the voting delegates from UMOJA, the umbrella group for black students, used it as an explanation for why I was not elected to a leadership role within their group.
Annoyed and concerned, I was left with nothing but questions: Who is the black community? What do they represent and why? Beyond skin color, what else unites this group?
There is no simple definition for the black, Asian, white, LGBT or Latino community. It is unfortunate that we have created these pseudo-societies based on skin color and stereotypical customs. But the real question is: what does a person do if he is rejected by a community that others think of him as a part of?
I have battled with finding a community that I feel I can identify with until recently. My solution was to dismiss all official affiliations and establish one of my own. I now belong to the Ernest community. This is a community that involves people of all races and creeds that I share similar ideas and beliefs with. I am not alone.
Members of this community are united by their personal bonds and qualities rather than just racial, religious or cultural ties.
I am in no way discrediting established cultural groups that we have on campus. They were created at a time in our history when racial, social and religious discrimination prevented individuals from attending this university. For some groups, this is still partially the case.
However, in 2012, categorizing students by race or gender alone only tells half the story. Cultural groups have a purpose, but their mission does not encompass the beliefs of all their constituents.
I am not just a black male at Penn.
But establishing my own identity outside of this category has not been easy. The biggest problem I have encountered is when others try to define me. People are quick to label me based on physical characteristics rather than my ideology.
That is why I have decided to redefine myself in this new year. Allow me to reintroduce myself. My name is Ernest Lee Owens Jr. I am a man. I am black. I am a Quaker. I am currently single. I love pasta. I am not too fond of country music but I am not much of a fan of rap either. I can dance. I can sing … badly. If you can identify with all or some of these things, join my community. It does not matter what race or religion you belong to, because that is not what I care about most.
Believe it or not, we all have our own communities each designed to fit our needs and viewpoints. People within that community may be darker, larger, shorter or smarter than others, but they are nonetheless unique. Difference is good and that is what we all should learn to accept. Efforts and organizations that segregate us hinder our ability to grow.
So here is a toast to not conforming. To the football player who loves theatre and the straight ally that attends LGBT meetings, I salute you. To students who focus on interfaith initiatives rather than just their own religious agendas, congratulations. To anyone who is striving to look at the bigger picture rather than just zoom in on the colors, thank you.
At the end of the day, each and every one of us has our own contribution to make to the world and no one else can tell us what that is. So turn it up and stand out.
Ernest Owens, an Undergraduate Assembly representative, is a College sophomore from Chicago. His email address is email@example.com. The Ernest Opinion appears every Friday.