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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Get In Where You Fit In

I’m under no illusion about how my one-third sub-Saharan African DNA isn’t what people immediately notice when looking at me. If I were to stand in a police lineup with other individuals of light complexion, a stranger wouldn’t likely identify me as having African ancestry.

Addressing this fact, my late stepmom—a black woman, reminded me on more than a few occasions that I had what is now understood to be “passing privilege.” Simply put, I look white.

Growing up mostly in Texas, and for a relatively short time in Colorado, I didn’t quite know in what race I fit. My dad was a “high yellow” black man and my mom’s skin was so white that her veins were readily visible on the under portion of her forearms.

Also, I had far more contact with my paternal family than those members associated with my maternal lineage. As far as friends were concerned, I got along with the three groups to whom I was most exposed—whites, blacks, and Mexicans.

Most of my black friends and family members accepted me as a black person. Many of my white friends took advantage of the chance to speak with a stereotypically black tone and cadence, while also freely using bigoted terms in my presence.

Nonetheless, I was largely considered to be white by most people who knew me and in regards to strangers I met. If in my youth I were asked how I identified, I probably would’ve chosen biracial.

Still, I distinctly recall being reprimanded in elementary school for identifying both racial categories on an optical mark recognition sheet, because noting more than one race could cause an error for the assessment tool. One educator outright told me, “You’re white. Mark white.”

Having preferred hip hop music for the majority of my upbringing, I was thrilled when in 1993 Too $hort released an album entitled Get In Where You Fit In. The namesake of the record adequately identified my conundrum.

Where did I fit in? By high school, and without the Internet as a source of information at the time, I’d begun an investigation of and subscribed to identification with black history within the United States (U.S.).

Shortly before enlisting in the Marine Corps, my dad strongly advised, “Don’t let them know you’re black. It’s a white man’s army.” Adhering to his instruction, I regrettably enlisted as solely white.

In 2000, while in Lima, Peru, I met and begun dating a woman I’ll call “Chaparrita.” Still not having found exactly where I fit in, though by no means ashamed of my black ancestry, for our first date, Chaparrita and I finished eating dinner at a fancy restaurant and decided to have desert at a separate establishment.

On our walk to her preferred ice creamery, Chaparrita said something that surprised me. I saw an elderly black man, in a brightly colored jumpsuit, sweeping trash with a broom.

I commented on how discouraging I thought his life may be as a black man of reduced socioeconomic status in a country that appeared to have a lower population of blacks than the U.S. To this, Chaparrita said, “It isn’t sad, it’s his place.”

I was confused and asked for clarity. Clarifying, Chaparrita explained that she considered black people to be inferior to white people—adding that although she was a Peruvian citizen she considered herself to be white—and that the black man I’d observed was simply fulfilling a role into which he was born.

Per her perspective, the man was born to serve white people. If that meant he would clean garbage in the streets, the concentration of which was likely associated with lighter-skinned individuals who cluttered the area, it was the black man’s plight to get in where he fit in.

At the time, Chaparrita didn’t know my race and so I promptly informed her. In the years prior to my assignment in Peru, I’d lost girlfriends through acknowledgment of my race and I wanted to afford Chaparrita an opportunity to end our association if she preferred to do so.

Chaparrita appeared surprised though—and to her credit—stuck by her beliefs. She wasn’t going to compromise her principles just because her biracial date existed in antagonism to her assumptions.

Though the standard has changed since then, when I walked with Chaparrita to purchase ice cream, the definition of racism was associated with a belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. One who maintained such beliefs was by definition a racist.

Chaparrita wasn’t particularly hostile towards blacks, nor did she appear to relish in the notion that she was of higher caliber to black people. Rather, and as a matter of living, she merely believed she was superior to others of perceivably lower racial characterization.

I currently practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), though I didn’t when dating Chaparrita. In 2000, I didn’t know that her sentiment wasn’t what caused my reaction—forming an Action-Consequence (A-C) connection.

I mistakenly concluded that Chaparrita shouldn’t have maintained racist beliefs and because she did, I couldn’t stand that I ultimately wouldn’t be accepted by Chaparrita or her family. I disturbed myself by concluding that life wasn’t fair, because I didn’t have the opportunity to be judged by the content of my character rather than by my genetic composition.

However, what I failed to understand back then was the Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection. It was my belief about Chaparrita’s conviction that led to the unpleasant consequence of sorrow, anger, resentment, and self-doubt.

To illustrate this point, consider that prior to ever meeting Chaparrita—when her attitude about black people was unchanged from when I met her—I wasn’t bothered by her views. Why?

The existence of Chaparrita’s perspective never was something with which I was concerned, yet it remained in the ether nonetheless. It was only once I came into contact with Chaparrita’s viewpoint—and believed she mustn’t maintain such a conviction—that I experienced a consequence.

Therefore, my belief about Chaparrita’s judgment of black people directly caused my reaction—not her assumption itself. As such, I could take personal ownership for disturbing myself and then do something about the unhelpful consequence of my belief.

Though I didn’t practice REBT when I dated Chaparrita, and despite her clearly defined racist attitude towards a portion of my genetic composition, I used a technique akin to unconditional other-acceptance and had a wonderful time with her when in Lima.

Blacks weren’t a monolith and neither were whites. I didn’t get in with all black or all whites, because there were far too many similarities and differences associated with individuals than to crudely view people by perceived group attributes.

Chaparrita and I weren’t of the same sex, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, or religious affiliation. We had plenty of differences.

Still, we both had an affinity for what was known back then as electronica, though by today’s standards is widely regarded as electronic dance music (EDM). As such, Chaparrita and I went to a number of EDM concerts and raves together.

We danced through many nights, reliant upon one another to navigate a dangerous time in Lima’s history when I received hostile fire/imminent danger pay while assigned to Peru. Chaparrita’s beliefs were her own and they didn’t have to reflect mine.

We both simply got in where we fit in and life for each of us was better for having done so.

Currently, many people in the U.S. are suffering in association with what they believe about a significant number of topics. Almost daily, I encounter the perception of A-C connections when understanding that people are truly self-disturbed by B-C connections.

Increasingly, calls to violence and actual instances of extreme force are carried out in the name of sociopolitical causes. In literal terms, people are dying as a result of misapplied A-C connections.

While I can appreciate people getting in where they fit in in regards to group identity, I wonder how well these connections are serving interests and goals of individuals attacking one another for belief-based differences. My concern is raised even more when those unaffiliated with partisan beliefs are attacked on behalf of a rigid ideology.

Where does all of this chaos lead? Attempting to force a square peg into a round hole doesn’t seem like a helpful strategy for a civil society.

Are you currently experiencing misery associated with the A-C connection? Though you may have gotten in where you fit in from an ideological position, do the beliefs with which you disturb yourself actually fit in with where you are or would like to be in life?

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, and hip hop head from the old school, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

(Chaparrita and I in front of a garden at an undisclosed location in Lima, Peru)


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