in that hip-hop way

Seems like there’ve been a few conversations going on [for a while] about being black and what that means.  Or being biracial [specifically black and white, most frequently] and what that means.   Some of the hype might be because Obama’s got the [presumptive] nomination and everyone who’s not black is looking for a crash course.  Or it might be because of that whole 2007 being the year of the noose, thing.  Or maybe it’s cuz the veneer cracked a bit, and somebody was taping it.

I don’t know why black people are on the radar now – shoot – maybe they’re not and I just think they are.

But as a ‘mixed’ girl, living where I live, I mostly identify as black.  And I know what that means to me.  My life has been my life, typical of nothing.  I don’t really know who has the actual ‘typical’ life – I don’t think I’ve ever met them.  I know a few folks who lead a fairly stereotypical life – and that’s their choice.

I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to ignorant as well as enlightened people from multiple ethnic backgrounds, and I’ve gathered that we all are who we are.  Sure that’s general, and it really says nothing to distinguish one from another, but that’s kinda my point.  People choose their words, their clothes, their lifestyles, their careers based on a host of different factors.  I’m not a sociologist or a statistician, so I’ll leave them to their philosophizing and numbers.  What I know is that any one person, from any given group, may be as alike or different from any other person, from any other group.  You can’t really get more specific, because it’s all in the details.

Our brains love to box people up into one category or another – we love to find patterns.  Which is why the imagery we see, and hear about, affects our perceptions.  Beyond that, we have our own lives/experiences to color how we filter the material we’re exposed to.  Maybe I hung out with some ragamuffins and self-proclaimed hoodrats, but then I saw family and friends with a whole ‘nother approach to life.  They’re all black, and I couldn’t say any one wasn’t simply because they listened to baroque music and didn’t say the word “ain’t”.

So, uh, that’s why I’m kinda puzzled about Ms. Evin’s comments.

Didn’t grow up around many African Americans?  Me neither.  Private schools?  Check.  Assumption that I can’t relate to black people because I’ve been exposed to a couple knot-heads from the so-called [in my specific situation: wanna be] hood?  Naw.

Really?  You prefer not to speak “in that hip-hop way”.  Well, I think I discussed how I feel about Mr. Cosby’s diatribes about black folks, so you already know.  Can’t say I’m surprised – first comes the tree, then comes the apple – but when is it gonna stop?

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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.