Saturday, April 07, 2007

My Saturday: Living the Black Experience


I got my hair straightened this afternoon. Now I can scratch my head again after a week of only being able to pat at itchy spots. I don't think I got burned, but my head did ache from the parting of my 1-2 inches natural growth. Yikes. My scalp was not happy with the comb pulling through the jungle that is my hair. I'm okay now, though. The relaxer took, and my hair is all shiny. Enjoy while you can, people; I'm getting it braided tout de suite. Meaning, next weekend, I hope.

While I was sitting under the dryer for the two hours it takes for my hair not to be wet anymore, I was reading Souls Looking Back: Life Stories of Growing Up Black. I borrowed it from the lovely and modern Santa Monica Library, along The Color of Our Future: Race in the 21st Century, which I haven't begun reading yet. I had spent much of Friday afternoon in the library reading Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race. It was mostly about the author's enchantment with, then disillusionment of, the race and color structure in Brazil and other South American countries, as compared to his experience growing up as a black man in the United States.

As I was reading these stories, I thought about many of these people's struggles in relation to my own upbringing. Growing up in St. Thomas wasn't perfect, and spending four years at LMU had its own frustrations. But for the most part, life was very good. Very good. Much of that was a function of my middle class background, my well-meaning parents, my intelligence, and my drive to succeed. I had never thought that because I was black I couldn't do something. I had never thought that because I was a woman I couldn't do something. Not doing something was not an option, not in my Middle and Upper School, and not in my home. None of my teachers thought I was doing well for a black student, or for a girl. They thought I was excelling for a student in my class.

The only times during high school when I felt like something was off was when I went away to summer programs at university. During the summer after ninth grade, I went to Exploration at Wellesley. At the time, I didn't think anything was weird. I learned about making videos, gender roles in American society, and discrimination against gay people. Oh, and the Summer Olympics. What I didn't realize until later was that almost all of the black kids at Explo were hanging out together exclusively. Meaning, sans moi. I just thought they all knew each other. All the friends that I made at Explo were white or Asian. And I never thought about that fact until I was in college. I never noticed that they were white or Asian. I just thought they were nice people.

The following summer, I went to the Institute of Television, Radio and Film Production at Boston University. Out of 54 people, three of us were black. We were also all girls. The rest of the people were mostly white, except for one of my friends who was an Asian guy. He carried around a small cow whom he called Le Moo. That's not relevant to the story, but it's true. Oh, and another of my friends was an Asian girl, who I think was a transcultural/transracial adoptee, because her parents came to Family Day, and they were white.

Anyway, there were a few other high school student programs going on at Boston University at the same time that shared a dorm with us. One was maybe music related, one was science related, one was drama related. And then there was Upward Bound. Or Outward Bound. One of the two. It involved taking inner-city youths, i.e. mostly black folks, and putting them in classes at the university for six weeks. I didn't really interact with any of them outside of the mandatory group activities provided for all the programs. But the two other black girls in ITRP did. Again, I had thought, maybe they know them. At one point, one of my tablemates in the cafeteria, who was in either the science or drama program, was surprised that I was in ITRP. He thought I was in...something else. He didn't specify what, and I didn't ask, but I'm sure he had assumed that I was their for Upward/Outward Bound. Why? I wondered to myself. The only people I was hanging out with that summer were all sitting at the table with me, and they were all from ITRP. It was glaringly obvious that I was in ITRP, yet he thought I was in some other program because I was black.

The icing on the cake was when the programs had the final dance before we all went home. All the ITRP, science and drama people had a dance together. But the Upward/Outward Bound people had a separate dance on a different night. What? That was the most bizarre thing to me. When I came home at the end of my summer, I mentioned this to my Mummy. First, she told me that I had gained weight. Hmph. The food was good. Well..it was plentiful and paid for. Again, not related. Then she expressed her understanding for separate dances and that Upward/Outward Bound people probably preferred it that way. What? That's not cool. We didn't have separate "ethnic" people dances at my school. Not like we could; there weren't enough people for that. I guess the people who ran the programs acknowledge that different people, i.e. white people and black people, liked different music, and having separate dances would make more people happy. But it didn't make me happy. Yes, I did have a good time at the white people dance. Yet I am still disturbed to this day that there was so much silently acknowledged racial division amongst these Boston University programs that our last events celebrating our summer of collegiate level learning had to be officially segregated.

Back to today. After my hair was done, I went to the Fox Hills mall to look for jeans on sale at Lane Bryant. My bum-bum has now expanded to size 16, and my old favorite jeans no longer fit comfortably. It's always a time at Fox Hills. Some of my friends prefer not to go there because it's too "ghetto" for them. Hmph. Yes, Fox Hills does cater to its black and Latino patrons. Meaning, there are multiple venues for purchasing athletic gear, "ethnic" hair care products, and baby clothes, just like the "mall" I grew up with in St. Thomas. But now that Fox Hills has an Old Navy, in addition to the Victoria's Secret, Macy's and Bath and Body Works that have always been there, shouldn't the disdain for the edifice decrease? Jeez. If only they had a Gap and an Ann Taylor Loft, I'd be set. I will admit that when I do see white people at Fox Hills, without at black or Latino friend, I wonder if they're lost. I'm such a racist.

I don't have anymore black experiences from today. I do have one from Wednesday. I found this article via Racialicious:
The helplessness of white people. If you're reading this and you're my friend and you're white, I'm sure this doesn't apply to you. It's about those other white people (and some nonwhite people) who aren't as cultured and aware as you are.

Recently I attended a workshop about race and racism primarily attended by white people. And I was really struck by the expressions of helplessness with regard to dealing with racism: “We can’t do it by ourselves,” “We need people of color to help us,” “How can we make friends with people of color who can help us?” “We have no way of understanding race and racism.”

It was stunning to hear a bunch of well-educated people make so many statements about their inability to deal with the subject on their own. And it occurred to me that racism is still portrayed as the problem of people of color, to be solved by people of color. If white people are to work on anti-racism, we must carry them on our backs. Then we are expected to be grateful that they did any work at all. Yet this replicates long-held patterns of privileged behavior and denies primary responsibility.

This was my favorite part, emphasis mine:

There are many issues that concern me about transracial adoption...I think one of the most troublesome aspects of transracial adoption is the way it illustrates for me how white people are able to confer or deny visibility to people of color. In many situations, I’m aware of my invisibility. I know white adoptive parents who can’t pick me out of a room of same-race people even though they’ve “known” me for four or five years. And even in my community, they speak only to each other. What a way to teach your kid.

I couldn't imagine someone who has known me for any length of time not being able to pick me out of a room. I get picked out of rooms immediately. Mostly because I am never in a room with that many black people any more. Not by choice. I just no longer have the opportunity. :( I have seen that phenomena happen before, though. And it's so sad, because it says so much about the person who can't recognize their colleague of color.

Someone named Wendi then left a comment about how "people" and "person" usually stands for "white people" and "white person" in American media, while nonwhite people have to be described primarily by their color or ethnicity. For example, to paraphrase Wanda Sykes, if Tiger Woods committed a crime, the headline would read, "Black Golfer Arrested." I left a comment, too:

Wordy McWord, Wendi. That concept of “white” being the default and ethnic people being the “other” is something I come across in most books and almost every screenplay I have ever read. As if “black” can fully describe a character, considering the ever-persistent one-drop rule.

I used to be apologetic when I tried to explain my frustration with this my associates, as if I was the one with the problem. Well, no more! It is insulting to think that white people are the default and that non-white people must be described primarily by their race, color or ethnicity, especially when it has nothing to with the context.

That is all.


In woman experiences, I also left a witty comment on Pajiba, in response to The Daily Trade Round-Up on Thursday, called He's Just Not That Into Your Pajiba. I got a couple of good responses, too, including one calling me eloquent. So cool! You can scroll down and find it near the bottom, so you can read it in context. Or you can read it out of context here:

Word to Big Bird, molly and Jorden. Pajiba definitely needs more strong, talented female voices. It would only make your website stronger.

I read Pajiba religiously, but if you boys don't get something that is targeted at women, do not immediately write it off just because you don't have a vagina. I don't have a penis, but I can write coherently on why I won't be seeing Blades of Glory, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I'm not its target demographic.

I could go on for days about why I hate the book He's Just Not That Into You and the subsequent fame that it has brought Mr. Behrendt. I also hated half of the Traveling Pants movie because it ruined the stories of Lena and Bee, mostly with Alexis Bledel's bad acting. But, I loved the first and second Traveling Pants books, and I own all six seasons of Sex and the City. Daniel, I'm a Miranda, and I'm very of proud of that.

No matter how cute I think Adam Brody is, I won't be watching In the Land of Women, because the movie looks stupid. And if and when one of you writes a review of the movie for this site, please don't make the theme of your article, "I didn't understand this movie because I'm a guy." You can do better than that.

P.S. I liked Dunston Checks In. Mostly because I thought Graham Sack was cute. But Faye Dunaway was funny, too.

Whether you're into Jesus, or the bunny with the eggs, Happy Easter!

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I shop at Fox Hills. I love all the cheap clothing shops! In fact I didn't even think anything until I noticed the tag on my shirt from Expressions had a picture of a girl w/ an afro.

I actually want to see In the Land of Women. Mainly cause we are deprived of chick flicks lately.

I haven't watched Little People Big World this week. But I think I have seen that episode. :)