DEAR EXENE: I'm a second-year college student at a local university. I've mostly dated African-American men, and as a white woman in Orange County with parents who aren't very accepting of that preference, I've dealt with plenty of judgement from people. I've also had to deal with family members of my past boyfriends looking at me as though I'm an outsider, instead of as someone who happens to be of a different race. Part of my constant struggle dating in the black community has been the assumption that I really know nothing about its culture. I want to learn more about African-American history, and I'm considering switching my minor to Afro-Ethnic Studies. I'm currently in a relationship with a guy at my school who's not exactly supportive of the idea. As a science major, he's one of the only black men in his field at school, and he's not really an expert on black history himself. He thinks it would be better to try to learn about black culture on my own and stick with a minor in economics (I'm currently a business major) and not sacrifice educational credits and money. With college being so expensive and the possibility that people who view me as a “dumb, white chick” will dislike me no matter how much I learn, does my boyfriend have a point? Should I save the money and just study the best I can on my own?
DEAR GRETTA: Without self-knowledge, there is no learning. Every culture is fascinating, but we are more the same than we are different (cultures are diverse expressions of the same universal truths). I just wish that every person on the planet had the same life beginning: a nurturing and safe environment in which everyone could discover who they are and be that. We'd all be individuals with our own purpose. We have been trained to look outside ourselves for meaning. We are defined by whom we date, which god we believe in, what we watch on TV, how much money we have, how others perceive us, etc.
Who are you, Gretta? What do you want to learn for you? Who are you when you are not in a relationship? It's one thing to want to learn about cultures. But are you trying to fit in with African-American culture? And if so, why? Are you looking to belong somewhere?
I'm afraid you are trying to do the impossible. You are trying to be someone else. You are a great, fantastic miracle—a soul being. Love yourself, then you can love everybody else. Accept yourself—not as a body or a race or a gender, but as a being. If you want to feel what others feel and know what they know, you have to feel and know yourself. You are young. You are alive and well. You are not a dumb, white chick.