Hi, My Name Is Austin...
They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, it took me a long time to realize I had a problem. Not only was my ethnocentricity not a problem to me; I thought it was a wonderful way to define myself- as ethnocentric, proud of my heritage and comfortable in my skin. And I am. I love learning about African American history, about inventors and leaders and achievers. I love learning about my own African American history- where my family is from, the trials they endured, the successes they enjoyed, the stories they passed down from one generation to another. I'm in love with my heritage and all that my black body represents- struggle, strength, patience, hard-work, love.
While all those things are good (and I have every intention of passing these stories on to my future children) when I was in college I had a significant revelation: I invested so much into my own culture that I had closed off any interest or opportunity to explore and understand the histories, cultures, and leaders of any other ethnic group. Though I never would have said it aloud, as I looked at my life, I realized that I was treating my culture as superior to anyone else's. I was only eating "my" soul food, listening to "my" gospel music, attending "my" black church, hanging out with "my" black friends (and the white ones who also loved "my" culture), I only dated black men, only hung posters with black folks represented and devoured books that exclusively discussed the importance of black leaders. My whole world revolved around being black. I was a Christian, and yet my world did not at all reflect the truth of God's love for every nation, tribe and tongue. If you looked at my life, you'd think God only loved black people and tolerated everyone else!
Now the whole truth is that I am still recovering. Sometimes I still get caught up in feeling the need to assert my culture when whiteness is normalized, retreating to the comfort of my culture, or racializing conversations. I don't think these are always bad things, but I have to be careful not to make blackness the center of my life. I have to be conscious about studying other cultures, other leaders, other issues in the world. I have to be purposeful about trying other foods, making new friends, investigating more and more and more. I have to follow through on promises I've made to myself, like learning to speak Spanish. I have to be disciplined until a multicultural life is completely normalized for me. I believe that is the life God has called me to; the closer I get, the more alive I feel.
Hi, my name is Austin, and I am a recovering ethnocentrist.