what color am i?

Ever since I was a kid I classified myself as black, even though I was generally socialized in a white world, because my skin was is unmistakably brown. I figure, race in this country (99 times out of 100) comes down to what you look like. The snap decisions that people make are the ones that usually end up affecting you, and those are made before they know you – they’re made when they see you. I’m relatively light-skinned, I suppose (though I never was good at judging), but no one would assume that I was white.

So I figured that was how the categories fell. I might actually be mixed, but my exterior is unambiguously non-(pure)white.

This is why I don’t have a problem with other mixed people claiming one race for ‘practical’ purposes.

We know that we are mixed. We know our racial background, for the most part anyway, but the issues of race in this country are inextricably tied to the visual. Sitting behind the computer screen, I could write a blog which never discussed my race, and possibly pass for white. I could conduct business strictly over the phone and [as I’ve been told I sound just like my mom, who is white] possibly pass for white. And passing is all that matters.

Because the whole race thing is nothing more than about perception. This is why white people have historically been so angry when they find they’ve been fooled by folks who were passing. It shines a bright light on the fact that black people are people and in their humanity are otherwise indistinguishable from whites.

This does not mean that I necessarily become what you perceive me to be. However, your perception of me will highlight traits and circumstances that reinforce your perception. That’s what prejudice is all about. It’s how prejudice can grow into racism.

And so I grew up showing people pieces of who I was, but not everything, because I could tell it wouldn’t have mattered. The seemingly incongruent pieces would fall away unnoticed, or effectively shut down the relationship altogether.

I still remember going to Vacation Bible School with my next-door neighbor. Greater Mount Canaan Missionary Baptist Church. (You guess the majority ethnic group represented.) So there we are, in our class, doing some kind of craft. I guess I was about 10 yrs old, and there was a boy that was kinda cute sitting one chair down from me. We had flirted a couple nights already, and this was shaping up to be a full-fledged 10-yr-old summer crush. My mom came to pick my sister and I up, and when she came in the craft room to get me, the boy said – “That’s your mom?”

I said, “Yeah”. And I got up to leave with her.

The rest of VBS this boy wouldn’t speak to me. At all. And though it means absolutely nothing, he was actually lighter that I am.

Before he know who my mom was, I was passing. Once he knew otherwise, I was nothing.

I think that’s how it works either way, when you’re dealing with racist people. My sister gets it more from white people because she can pass for a white girl with a good tan. She says that being in the Midwest is difficult because it is much more frequent for people to completely flip on her when they find out she’s mixed.

I get it. So when Barack says he’s black – when commentators, pundits, journalists call him black – I get it. If you’re walking down the street in Anytown, USA and people see you, they will automatically assign a race to you, prior to getting close enough to start a conversation. Generally, you’re either black or white. As the numbers for other racial minorities in America increase, the chances for a more-than-binary system increase. But more often, those that don’t fit into the binary are just given a blanket ‘foreigner’ designation, and are dealt with that way.

So it’s not about denying one side or the other. I know who I am. My friends get to see me. But if you’re not interested in my story, I’ll know how to deal with you – because I’ve been doing it all my life.

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race & relationships

I went to spend this past wknd with my mother to celebrate her bday and Mother’s Day, since they’re so close together, and I don’t get to go over that way too often.

In the course of talking, we ended up talking about whether there really is a disconnect between black feminists and white feminists.  I told her about the recent flare-ups in the blogosphere, and some of the things that I’ve only begun to think about, in light of all the discussion.  Considering that there are differences in the stereotypes applied to black women and white women, certainly combating those stereotypes would take different tactics.

From that, we moved into talking about basic assumptions that we make about people.  [I’m not sure how that happened, but there was some sort of segue.]  That’s when she told me about something that happened at her job, when we lived in Hawaii (the 80s).

There was a woman who came in to her office to temp as a secretary for a while.  They chatted over some days, and eventually the woman saw pictures of me and my sister on my mother’s desk.

She asked, “Who are those young ladies?” (or something like that)

Mom replied that they [we] were her daughters.

The woman looked at her, and then said, “Oh, you adopted?”

Mom said, “No…they’re my biological children.”

Then the woman looked at mom with a seemingly new understanding, and before she could stop herself, said, “So, you’re one of those.”

Puzzled, a bit apprehensive, but curious, Mom asked.  “One of those what?”

“Oh, uh, you know.”

“No.  I don’t know.  What?”

You know.  Those people.”

No. I don’tWhat people?  Go ahead and say it.”

“Sluts.”

*********************************************************************
I think Mom had told me about this once before, but at the time I didn’t really think about it.  Now, four days later, I’m still digesting.

The issues that come up with interracial relationships are myriad, and you could probably keep coming up with things all day.  Latoya P’s intro to a conversation about interracial relationships got me thinking about how things have changed since my parents got together.  What things are like now vs. what they were like 30 yrs ago.  And what things are/were like for interracial multiracial kids.

Anecdotes from multiracial kids and their parents could go on and on with incidents.  Cuz they have been happening for years, and they still are.  People still parrot the things they’ve heard.  Like:

The kids won’t know who they are.  They’ll be confused.  Or ridiculed.
The relationship can’t last, there’ll be too much adversity – the world isn’t ready to accept you.
Couldn’t you find anyone of your own race?/Oh you only like them now?

I don’t feel like going on.  But I could.  For some reason, there’s this drive for people to request a background history to legitimize the relationship.  As though there’s something unnatural about people with slightly different *physical* features getting together.  When, in reality, it’s been happening for thousands of years.  Yup.  (specifically for Bob Jones U.) it was happening in the Bible, too.

So, I’ll be keeping my eye on the discussion over at Racialicious, just cuz I think it might get know it will be interesting.  It already is.

oh tyra

I stumbled upon the beginning of Tyra’s talk show just now.  And I’ll say one thing for her – she knows how to hook a viewer.  I didn’t see the whole preview – just the part with a father pushing his daughter to be a prostitute.  And there ya go, I had to watch.

The show is about prostitution, and how and why women get into it.

“…for a lot of women, they seem to just jump into the industry as if it’s the most glamorous choice in the world.” ~Tyra (emphasis hers)

Then she introduced two women, 25 and 27, who are…auditioning? interviewing? trying out? to be Bunny Ranch girls.  The 25 yr old, Anna, is looking to save money for her mother’s liver transplant.  She also said that she considered earning the money this way because she “really likes to please men”.  The 27 yr old, Shy Love (I don’t know if her parents were hippies or if she’s already chosen her ‘bunny name’), is a nurse who’s tired of working 24/7 and missing important moments in her 5 children’s lives.  [That’s right, 5 kids.  They are 11, 8, 7, 6, and 4 going on 5.]  She also said the money wasn’t that great.  I suppose, for the hours, that could be true.  And compared to working at the Ranch, that could be true.  Anyway, she said she weighed the pros and cons, and the Ranch was a clear winner.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Woo.  Can I just take a moment to let all that sink in?

How is it that we have women choosing to become prostitutes in order to support their families?  To me, that sounds like this country has let them down.  Completely.  And I’m not just talking about these 2, going for the Bunny Ranch.  They’ll do much better there than the girls across the country that have decided to do the same thing, for the same reason, but have no protection.

Ok, back to the show.  Turns out, Shy Love has a serious bf, Chris.  He’s not thrilled about her choice, but he says he can handle it.  Up to five years.

Tyra:  Ok.  Five years of other guys pounding your girl. [emphasis hers again]
Chris:  You know, thanks.
Tyra: Ok.
Chris:  Thanks.
Tyra:  I’m just keepin’ it real – just keepin’ it real.  Cuz it is what it is. Ok, we’ll be right back. (giggle)

Ok, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a whole episode of Tyra, so I’m not sure what I should be expecting.  Not much, I guess.  Her questions [IMO] are borderline offensive, and she doesn’t seem to grasp what is appropriate and what’s not.  Now, this bunny ranch fella she brought on the show just commented that since we’ve all seen ‘Pretty Woman’, every woman [at some point in her life] has only been one step away from working at the Ranch.

I dunno if I’ll be able to stomach the rest of this.  I’ve seen some interviews where prostitutes have said that other women are selling sex as well, they’re just not getting money for it.  They’re getting dinner, time, affection, whatever.  That’s how they refer to the dating process.

And I can see the point.  Especially if we’re talking about women who have sex with men they barely know.  Regularly.

But alleging that even the majority of women have the desire to be prostitutes?  Well, it’s no surprise to me that a man said that.

I’m thinking that maybe somebody is punking Tyra.  They’re trying to make sure she looks like a fool on tv.  Cuz this girl from the Ranch just said something about how we all use our bodies at work, and she just uses a different part, and what did Tyra say?  “You use your coochie.”

The so-called father-daughter aren’t really.  He’s a father-figure.  That doesn’t make it any less creepy that he does bikini waxes on her, but at least it’s not her real dad.  And Summer, 18,  is an adult-industry star, apparently.  And her “dad” is her manager.  And he’s trained as a…I dunno…someone who does waxing.

Oh no he didn’t.  Oh no that mofo did not just call Ashley Dupre a ‘ho’.

So, fake-daddy drops Summer at the Ranch and she’s crying cuz she doesn’t want to do this anymore.  But he says, “Chin-up. I want you to go in there and make a good impression, ok? I love you.”  So she gets out of the car, and goes.  Her “daddy” keeps calling this a career.

The more I watch, the more I think these women need someone professional to talk to.

I’ve turned the sound off on the show.  It’s too painful.

I’m a more old-school feminist.  So I’m not into porn and prostitution as some kind of liberating behavior for women.  I think it’s bad for women.  Men too, actually.  I think it just perpetuates the patriarchy.  And I really hate the term “sex-positive” because that infers that people like me are “sex-negative”.  But just cuz I want a more level playing field in the bedroom as well as everywhere else, doesn’t mean I’m not in favor of sex.

Just selling it, I suppose.

personality, preference, and race

Typical doesn’t usually apply to me.  In fact, I’m not sure if it ever does.  But my humanity is not any less accessible than anyone else’s – I love to laugh, spend time with people I love, be entertained, play games and generally have a good time.

But the things/activities that I enjoy – are they specific to a certain group?

I don’t belong to just one racial group, but it seems obvious that certain pieces of entertainment are geared to one or another, often exclusively [but without overt malice].

Take, for instance, the allusion to differences between ‘Living Single’ and ‘Friends’, in the comments here.

I loved Living Single.  I loved Friends.  I loved lots of shows.  [I really like tv]

I spent most of my young life not thinking about deep racial issues.  I completely bought into the ‘white = default (read: normal)’ idea without even being aware of it.  I was aware of some cultural differences…I spent time with people of different racial backgrounds, but I got the general idea that people were either ‘white’ or ‘black’.  Anyone with skin light enough to be white, was.  Everyone else was black.  That was certainly the way things seemed to be.  And even now, that still seems to ring true, though it’s a tad bit stickier with many more Latin people in America [fitting into both and/or neither category].

So, I wasn’t thinking about how I only saw black people on ‘90210’ when they were in a gang or being bussed to West Beverly to get out of their impoverished school. [Classic white savior/token black person episode]  I never thought about the lack of diversity on ‘Friends’ until I saw a black comedienne refer to it as ‘We-Don’t-Have-Any-Black-Friends’.

And I do like the diversity that has lept into most tv shows.  I notice it more frequently, and I appreciate it.  But I tend to identify with characters based more on personality than anything else.  That’s including race and gender.

Perhaps because of the way I grew up, always knowing that I was different, I never expected to see someone like me on a tv show or in a movie.  When Mariah appeared on the scene, I had an ally in the music business, though she and I look nothing alike, and my range is …slightly less than 5 octaves.

So, when I started thinking about things more deeply, in terms of race and gender and sensitivity, I found that my preferences and affinities didn’t change.  When I realized that there hadn’t been any black people on ‘Friends’, I didn’t stop watching.  I didn’t watch one or two of the seasons cuz it got a lil slow toward the end.

But I remember being around some semi-friends, while I was growing up, and feeling that I wasn’t ‘black-enough’ because I watched certain shows, listened to certain music.  I think this helped spark my ‘all R&B – all the time’ period, which lasted from ~’91 to at least ’97.  I wouldn’t share my interest in some of the music that my sister unashamedly listened to – the great one-hit 90s bands like Gin Blossoms, Blind Melon, STP, etc.  [the nostalgia from one of these is incredible, nonetheless]

I didn’t have anything to prove with white people, because I was generally accepted as the ‘present company excluded’/’I don’t think of you as black’ friend.  And that was weird to me, but I didn’t know how to respond.  It felt like acceptance, I thought.

I spent a lot of time trying to fit in to some group.  I was most comfortable away at school, in a dorm with other girls who seemed to have a better grip on understanding me.  After that, I struggled, until I kinda fell into the International [Students’] Club, my 2nd to last year in school.  Being completely and utterly American, I still don’t know how I ended up being a member [and eventually an officer] of the ISC but, there you go.  It was probably the most fun time of my college career.  I was learning to be myself, regardless of the expectations.

As time marched on, I continued to look for a niche to fill.  And I was accepting myself as being both black and white in a way I hadn’t before.  Trying to prove my blackness was becoming less of an issue.  But the pressure was still there.  I began to assert that, though some of my black friends might never have met someone like me, that didn’t make me white [even though I am], it just made me different.

In the meantime, I began to meet people who somehow thought that I would understand/approve of them having some kind of specific ‘type’, when it came to their romantic interests.  A black girlfriend of mine decided she was into white boys [exclusively].  A black guy friend went the same way.  Another guy friend [korean/white] talked about how he was into only blonds.  I spoke to them all about it.  And the answer I invariably got: it’s a preference.  It’s not a race thing.

It doesn’t sound any better to me today – and this is years later.

Race is a crazy construct, but the assumptions and excuses and conclusions that come with folks with ‘preferences’ just turn the whole thing into a ball of confusion for me.

The complexity of it all and the lateness of the hour causes me to question the coherence of this blog.  I guess my point was just that while people can appreciate this or that piece of media regardless of its loose connection to reality, it doesn’t [to me] hold the same import as, say, the specific [romantic] preference toward the opposite/same sex [hair/eye/skin color & texture].

passing out now.

a childhood idol

I was at a prime age to fall in love with the Cosby Show when it came on, and follow it for the duration.  Dr. Huxtable was loving, strict, and hilarious – a lot like my dad.  Even though I only have one sibling [my younger sister], I felt like we were the Huxtables.  Looking back now, I know that I based this on the parts that I could actually relate to: kid/parent dynamics, general awareness of being black, having both parents in the house.  My parents are professionals, but not doctor and lawyer, so our financial outlook was quite different, but the difference wasn’t stark to me.

After the Cosby Show, I’d basically give anything that had Bill’s name on it a chance.  I still think it’s the best show that’s ever been on tv.  So I was taken aback when he started his roaming ‘call out’ sessions a couple years ago.

It’s really hard to describe how I feel about his approach and opinions.  I am not a supporter of teen pregnancy, absentee fathers, high-school dropouts, and saggy pants…I’m actually quite conservative in my personal life.  So you might think that I’d be on board with his messages.  Except that I’m not.  Not all the way.

My dad is convinced that saggy pants are tied to the inevitable demise of America, but I don’t see it.  I can’t see how they’re more of a threat than long hair, bell-bottoms, tie-dye, and leisure suits ever were.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a great article for the Atlantic about Bill’s efforts to save the black community, and carves out some of the words I’d been looking for.

If Cosby’s call-outs simply ended at that—a personal and communal creed—there’d be little to oppose. But Cosby often pits the rhetoric of personal responsibility against the legitimate claims of American citizens for their rights. He chides activists for pushing to reform the criminal-justice system, despite solid evidence that the criminal-justice system needs reform. His historical amnesia—his assertion that many of the problems that pervade black America are of a recent vintage—is simply wrong, as is his contention that today’s young African Americans are somehow weaker, that they’ve dropped the ball.

Cosby suggests that the lack of strong black families, and educated black people is a creation of the current generation.  But that’s not the case.  Sure, there is business that we need to handle.  But uh, the situations that exist right now are complex – and were not solely created by our own community.  That would seem to be my central point of disagreement with Mr. Cosby.

That – and the fact that I really do feel like he’s airing dirty laundry.

I sure do run into a lot of white people who think he’s RIGHT ON.  That should give him pause, too.

war dance

The story of the child soldiers in Uganda is one that is impossible to forget.  Told in their own voices, this movie contrasts the stark reality of living in a warzone – being a refugee in your own country – with the hope of schoolchildren in a national music competition.  The human spirit is apparently so resilient, that social and community connections, no matter the conditions, will help a child rebuild a semblance of normalcy – a few moments of validation and happiness.

There were some things that were hard to listen to/watch, but there was the beauty of a boy consuming himself in mastery of the xylophone.  Girls and boys making their costumes for their dance competition.  All of them practicing their enunciation for their Western Choral event.

Talk about underdogs, these kids have very little in the way of resources, but their quest to demonstrate their skill, talent, and relevance among the rest of Uganda’s pupils is palpable.

As far as the film’s delivery goes, there’s no pesky director visually inserting him/herself into the movie.  Not even the voice of a narrator is heard.  Editorial and expositional commentary is made with subtitles and other written screen notes.  Though there is obvious editing – good editing, IMO – the movie feels like it really is the voices of the children: plain and simple.

See War DanceHelp here.  (Or by your own favorite agency.)

alive, awake, aware

Race is on the brain – and I’m alive.  I’m awake.  I see the “news” coverage of Barack and the insinuations that somehow his manhood is questionable because of his bowling prowess [or lack thereof].  I didn’t miss the 40 year anniversary of MLK, Jr’s death.  I got the memo that somehow Mariah’s record-breaking single means less.  More pointedly, I know someone who’s being bullied out of his house by a crooked mortgage company.

And it seems to me – now that the ‘race conversation’ has been opened up by Barack and (indirectly) his former minister – that white people (liberal and otherwise) are feeling increasingly comfortable to come forward and claim the out that Barack provided in his speech.  You know – “a similar anger exists in segments of the white community” – as though it really is similar.  I know he’s a politician, and he can’t win on black votes alone, but it was stifling to me that he had to add the caveat.  If you’re gonna make things plain – make ’em plain. Black people are not immigrants.  The whole point is that the experiences of whites and blacks in this country cannot be compared as though they are the same.  The denial of this point is the root of the “resentment [that] builds over time”, according to Obama.

As I’ve mentioned before, the desire to claim that you’ve made it ‘on your own’ is common, but almost entirely impossible to be true.  No man is an island, no one accomplishes great things without help.  Because this is contrary to the ethos of individuality inherent in America, my assertion can inflict almost physical pain on some people, but this makes it no less true.

It seems though, that everywhere I turn, white people are asking why they can’t have WET (white entertainment television), or Miss White America, etc, etc, etc.  Telling me I’m too sensitive, that I should teach them how to not be racist offensive, and that they can’t be racist because – they voted for Barack, have black friends, have a family member who married somebody black, etc.  And then, when I get tired of explaining, when my patience wears thin, I’m not doing my part to foster dialog and ‘healing’.

But you know what?  I’m over that.  I’ll be in teacher mode when I’m in teacher mode.  Not when someone demands it.  Reading an interview with Vernon Reid, I found a worthy quote that reminded me of what we’re actually dealing with

Part of the genius of Institutional Racism is that long after Ol’ Massa’s Gone Away and The Last Overseer hung up his whip, fear has been a constant companion of the African American, justified or not. Black performers are uniquely vulnerable to that fear, because the stage exposes and further objectifies. The safest route then is to merely entertain, to make and keep people “happy” (unchallenged and unchanged, but edified). Not to take anything away from the skill and talent required. This is a long and powerful tradition, subverted, raged, and signified against, but potent nonetheless.

This fear is also alive.  Present and nearly palpable in those very same discussions about Barack’s former pastor, about Condi’s reminder that she is actually black; in the discussions about higher STD rates in young black females, higher HS dropout rates among black youths, other gaps and inequities that scream out loud that the revolution hasn’t happened yet.  And of course, in the fact that I have to explain that the revolution isn’t about turning the tables, and making white people the slaves of black people, but that it’s about righting the wrongs and giving the power to ALL the people.

The fear is the reason Barack and the rest of us have to give white people an out.  An escape clause to grab hold to so they don’t have to feel (too) guilty.  Cuz white people don’t really believe that mess about them not having anything to do with it – it was just their ancestors.  No, that’s just a straw to cling to, flimsy though it be.

So the ever-present fear is sometimes overcome by the boldness that comes with anger, and then we get Rev. Wright’s sermon – not railing against whites, but all of us that fail to stand up for real justice.  Or the outburst from Kanye – saying what the rest of us were thinking.

There are a lot of racial wounds in this country, and it’s gonna take longer than one presidency [whoever wins], to work things out.  Here’s hoping.