TED Conversations

Kyra Gaunt

Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur, Assoc.Professor, Kyraocity Works

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How did you first learn to be black or African or what was your earliest memory of learning about blackness/Africaness as different?

As a member of several social innovation communities, as a professor who teaches courses on the evolution and expressions of racism, and as a person of African descent in the United States (African American), I've been traveling around the world since becoming a TED Fellow and even before that asking people of all backgrounds, who did you first learn about racial differences between blacks and others, between Africans and others. The personal narratives people share have rocked my world.

A white woman from West Virginia who hated whites because the only people who ever loved her, kissed her, touched her with care, where two black woman her white father, a Vet caring for 4 girls alone after being abandoned by his wife. He had contracted them to raise her and her sisters. They had to leave in the midst of night to escape social services in the midst of the U.S. race riots of 1965-66. They moved to Ohio where people hated West Virginians (the politics of class among whites was surely at work her as well as the politics of state immigrations and unemployment at the time).

She remembered thinking "I can change my walk or my accent, if I wanted to." But the black women who were my caretakers while my dad worked could not change their skin color. That was her earliest memory as a white person. And she said that interpretation of life made her hate white people til she was well into her forties.

We met at a workshop I gave called AGREE TO BE OFFENDED (AND STAY CONNECTED) on racism as a resource in 2008 at the Conference for Global Transformation in San Francisco. I gave a workshop to 52 people from 3 continents and trained people in rethinking the social construct of race and difference that plagues all nations and groups on some level.

I could use any group here, but I think it's particularly enlightening to examine blackness and Africanness as member of the TED community and other social innovation settings where members of these communities are rarely prominent.

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    Apr 22 2012: - American movies!
    - Yes, I grew up watching American movies and that's when I first knew about it, I am an African and lived most of my life in the middle east and we don't feel much of blackness here. And I don't get to see many "white" until I was in a holiday in 2008 in east Asia. And I was playing pool with some guy from US and once he knew I am African he asked me about my opinion on Obama! Until that moment I felt its fine. But what surprised me later is that I asked him : why did you asked me about Obama "specifically"??.
    And until now I have no idea of why I did what I did ??!!
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      Apr 22 2012: What have your learned about what it means to be "black" or "African" from movies or from Asian interactions or from not being assigned that categorization until late?
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        Apr 22 2012: What I meant to say is that I was "unknowingly" being defensive...even though I didn't experience it much and that he asked me that question because I was African not black!

        But for me, even on the time I go through few incidents I start to feel sad for "them" rather than me, it is definitely so terrible for their minds not being able to evolve enough to cope up with 21st century...

        And then I feel sympathy rather than hate.
        Speaking about movies, this is one of my favorite : "American history X"

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