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Deconstructing Race: I Wish More People Had Experiences Of "Otherness"

Asha Brogan

In the late nineties, I participated in a large-group workshop where participants organized themselves in space according to a series of prompts. One was, “With what race do you identify?”

  The Asians and African-Americans immediately clustered. I was one of five that quickly formed a “white/Caucasian” subgroup. About 25 other people who appeared to be white wandered around for a long time in confusion, trying to decide where to put themselves. Several argued that they “identified” with many or all of the groups.

When we debriefed, the common life experience of the five “whites" was that we had all spent time as racial minorities. I spent one of my teenage years in a public housing project in Newark, New Jersey, and I remember how strange it was to see a pale face looking back from my bathroom mirror. I also remember coming to Dayton and finding that my slight southern accent was—for the first time in my life—a clear stigma. Like many local transplants from Appalachia, I quickly lost the accent. I guess my one wish about race and identity would be that more people would experience and process experiences of “otherness.” These have helped to clarify my self-identity as well as my empathy.

Fred Bartenstein, a native of Virginia, is an organizational consultant and music historian, active in the Springfield, Dayton, and Yellow Springs communities.

Deconstructing Race is a series of commentaries about racial identity by Miami Valley residents. It's co-curated by Dr. Kimberly Barrett, vice president of multicultural affairs and community engagement at Wright State University. The series features ten people of varying ages and racial identities responding to one or more of the following questions:What is your experience with racial identity? Are there pieces of your identity that are frequently misunderstood, invisible, or visible in complicated ways? If you could make one wish about race and identity, what would it be?  

Submissions are still open. Send your answer to one or more of the questions above, in 200 words or less, to lwallace@wyso.org. If your submission is accepted, it will be edited by WYSO and you’ll be asked to come in and record.