Constructions of Racial Identity: Coconut
CONSTRUCTIONS OF RACIAL IDENTITY: COCONUT
By TEBATSO DUBA ‘22
Volume 1, Issue 2
A coconut is socially defined as a black or brown (non-Caucasian) person who, in many ways, is perceived to embrace and embody white culture. They’re defined by the way they speak, their friend group, their music playlist, the way they dress, their goals and aspirations, and the kind of education they receive. I’ve learned that in the U.S., these individuals are usually labelled as Oreos. In some Asian countries, they’re labeled as bananas and almonds.
I had been called a coconut throughout my whole childhood and I did not mind because I was blissfully unaware of the implications of these labels. Over time, however, as I grew older, I began to realize some things. Slowly I became aware that I live in a world where, more often than not, my race walks into the room before I do, and these kinds of labels (coconut, oreo, banana, and almond) reaffirmed what I was starting to notice. These labels suggest that there is a preconceived idea of how one should present themselves from the way they speak to what they should aspire to, depending on the color of their skin. The worst part is that when I do not meet these expectations, I am labeled as an outsider. I am not black; instead, I am a coconut, and I am set apart. Note that we live in the 21st century, thus, these discriminatory and prejudiced notions were never overt expressions. They were hidden behind kind smiles and good intentions. Consequently, much time had passed before I could notice the wounds from thousands of tiny microaggressive bullets.
So what do we do with these labels and how do we tackle implicit prejudice? Well, if we think about it, these labels spell out: YOU CANNOT BE TOO (insert race) IF YOU WANT TO ENTER THIS SPACE OR SUCCEED OR FIT IN etc.. So here’s an idea. Use all the advantages that come with these labels. In other words, use the privilege it brings. As a result, you enter these spaces and make the most of the opportunities, but, while you are there, work to make sure that the road you’re paving is one that encourages and allows more diversity and inclusion. You kind of become like a spy… working on the inside to motivate and lend a hand to the people that the system has historically barricaded from the spaces you now operate in.
Finally, this message is not only for people of color. White people who operate to create more diversity and inclusion and understand the necessity of it are just as powerful and absolutely necessary. This is a group effort because we are all responsible for our future. Look, there are many ways to tackle prejudice so you do not have to take my word for it. I just think that this is a good step in turning something as sour as discrimination into something sweet.