Once again, I have been inspired to write about something discussed in my class on confession and forgiveness. The book assigned for this week was Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story, by Timothy B. Tyson. The book recounts a small Southern community's struggle through racial issues as viewed through the lense of a particular instance of violence.
Our class discussion was incredibly circumspect, seemingly focusing on everything but race. That's not what I want to write about, but it did strike me as symptomatic of our society's inability to deal with uncomfortable issues.
At some point in the discussion, Dr. Dykstra mentioned the idea of "race traitors," specifically in the context of higher education. Apparently, it is not uncommon for African-Americans to be ostracized for being successful in "white" insititutions, such as Ivy League universities. This seemed curious to me because it also seems like education is highly valued among most minority communities. So, while African-American youth are admonished to get an education, to "make something of themselves," they also face recrimination when they are successful in a context to which their friends and family may not be able to relate.
In a way, this reminded me of my own experience with higher education. I come from a fairly poor family, not impoverished, but certainly much lower than middle class. My family is blue collar all the way. Generally, success in school and wealth go hand in hand, but somehow, I was the exception to that rule: poor AND successful in school. My community always encouraged me to continue my education, to "make something of myself." Now that I have, I sometimes feel like the outsider when I return to my family and my community.
I don't think I'm better, but I know that I am irrevocably different from my family and other friends from my hometown. My context is not their context. I often find it difficult to relate my own life experiences to those of the folks who are dearest to me and sometimes I think I am seen as having become snobbish. I am the outsider.
It seems like any person who succeeds, moving beyond the level of their peers, breaking free of the bonds that hold others in their community hostage, may look like a traitor to those who remain behind. Is it possible for a community to lift up those in their midst who are talented without making those people pay an emotional price for excellence? What is the responsibilty of the exceptional person (not saying I am one) within the community that fostered their success?