Personal Statement: The Ethics of Identity

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Illustration by Emilie Farrugia

 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 7:54pm

“Dipped in chocolate, bronzed in elegance, enameled with grace, toasted with beauty. My Lord, she’s a Black woman.”

I read this quote often — one of my favorite quotes from Yosef A.A. Ben-Jochannan — and when I do, it makes me feel positive and confident about who I am. I read this quote and I want to take a deep breath and yell from my chest that I am a confident, complex and phenomenal Black woman.

Funny thing is, I don’t get to really do that so much in my writing.

In fact, I’d have to say this is honestly the first time I’ve been able to be forthcoming about being Black in my writing. You see, as a news journalist for The Michigan Daily, I feel like I never get the chance to share that nugget of information with my readers — or that I’m really supposed to for that matter.

Of course, that may lead one to ask why the fact that the person writing this article happens to be Black matters in the first place.  

I myself hadn’t really thought about that until a few weeks ago, when an associate at the Daily told me her professor had incorporated an article I wrote, which was about a campus event dealing with intersectionality within the Black community, into a mandatory course for students on residential staff. My associate told me that during a class discussion on the article, one of her classmates said she thought the author, meaning me, probably didn’t know what she was talking about since she’s not even Black. Of course, you can imagine the look on everyone’s faces when my associate kindly corrected her, and shared with the class that I am indeed, Black.

After she told me what happened, the first thing that came to mind was, “Great! She couldn’t tell I was Black, so there’s no way she can think I was being biased in my article!” But then, I thought, how can I really be OK with this? This girl completely misidentified me. Not only that, but because she misidentified me, she was critical of my credibility as a journalist. Is this really what I want my readers to do? Am I really all right with my identity being hidden and misunderstood like this?

Being the journalist that I am, I did some searching to try to find some answers. Of course, as usually tends to happen, I realized the issue here is much deeper.

Let me start by saying, I really can’t blame this girl for thinking I’m not Black. I’m the only Black student involved in the News section.

Not to mention the name Alyssa doesn’t exactly scream, “She’s black!” What can I say? My mom loved Alyssa Milano in “Who’s the Boss?” So, I can see how she was able to think I’m not Black. That makes sense to me. The part that’s really leaving me puzzled is how the conclusion that I wasn’t Black was used to argue that my work wasn’t credible. In fact, I’ve learned that it’s supposed to be quite the opposite.

Ethical journalism standards have taught me that I have to suppress parts of my identity in order to remain objective in my work. I’ve learned my job as a journalist who sometimes writes about the Black community requires me to suppress my identity as a Black woman in order to be unbiased. Why? Well, as our friend in that residential staff course inadvertently showed, my identity as a Black woman apparently makes a big difference when it comes to the objective quality of my work.

The principles of objective journalism and their popular perception made me feel that because I’m Black, I will inevitably agree with every Black person I interview for my articles. It made me feel that I will always vote for the candidate that promises to do the most for the Black community. It made me feel that I can’t always write about things related to diversity on campus because I will identify too much with some of the students of color I may need to interview for the story. Objective journalism made me feel that being Black means I’m going to be too opinionated, so when I write, I should strive to be just a name on a page with no interests, no passion and certainly no identity.

Objective journalism taught me that if I truly want to be unbiased in my writing, then I absolutely cannot be Black.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this way of thinking about ethical journalism standards was all wrong. All Black people don’t have the same experiences. All Black people don’t support the same political candidates. All Black people don’t agree on every issue. I cannot accept that being Black is code for a specific set of beliefs, experiences and interests that I must lay aside for the sake of being ethical.

My identity is much more complex than just being a Black woman; being Black is who I am, but it doesn’t completely define my views, my interests or my experiences. I respect ethics and I understand my responsibility as a journalist to share nuanced and objective information with my community, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that being Black makes my coverage of specific issues biased.

Am I a writer who happens to be a Black woman or am I a Black woman who happens to be a writer? I don’t know, and I may never know. I do know that I love to write and when I’m writing is when I really feel like I’m being myself and doing something that really matters. I hope one day, my readers will be able to appreciate me for the Black woman that I am and glean my passions and interests from my writing.

So with that, for the first time, let me introduce myself to you. My name is Alyssa Brandon. I am from Romulus, Michigan and I am a junior studying communication studies and Japanese language and culture. I love romance novels, American history, sushi, travel and a nice, hot cup of green tea with a shot of steamed lemonade every now and then. I’m a woman who has had many struggles, but I believe there are many victories in store as I discover my true assignment for the world.

And, I’m Black, dipped in chocolate, bronzed in elegance, enameled with grace, toasted with beauty. My Lord, I’m a Black woman.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.