Tag Archives Asian-Americans

Not Your Grandparent’s Brand of Racism

Stone Mountain, Georgia is where I lived when I first realized I was “black.”

By that I mean, I realized that people would see my skin color, make up all kinds of prejudgements and adjust their behavior accordingly.

It is the place where I first felt the weighty isolation of being the only black kid in a class full of white kids. It’s the place I lived when I was first teased for my hair type, my nose size, my round, protruding butt that’s now considered trendy, and of course my skin color.

It’s where my white teacher told me that in the “old days” some white people thought our skin color would rub off on them. That by touching us they’d become black. The horror! This sounds as ridiculous to me now as it did as as a 10-year old.

It’s where three Confederate leaders are carved into the granite mountain from which the city derived it’s name.

It’s the location of the former headquarters of the KKK, that bastion of white supremacy that’s terrorized black Americans for decades.

Today's racism doesn't look like it did 50 years ago. It's not always as obvious as using the "n-word". Saying you're colorblind doesn't mean you aren't racist. Being a nice person doesn't mean you can't hold racist beliefs. | Read more from "Not Your Grandparent's Brand of Racism" on The Girl Next Door is Black
Stone Mountain bas relief sculpture of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee & Stonewall Jackson
Source

Stone Mountain, GA is also where high school principal Nancy Gordeuk singled out black audience members during a recent high school graduation. Gordeuk made the mistake of ending the ceremony before the Valedictorian’s speech. When audience members filed out thinking it was over, Gordeuk – who is white – said, “Look who’s leaving—all the black people.

After first apologizing for her “racist comment’ in an email to parents, Nancy later backtracked saying: “I didn’t know ‘black people’ was a racist term. I didn’t say the N-word or anything like that ’cause that isn’t in my vocabulary.”

She continued sticking her foot all the way in her mouth with: “People always think the worst, you know. You say the word ‘black,’ you know. Was I supposed to say African-American? Were they all born in Africa? No, they’re Americans.”

Just because “the n-word” is not in your vocabulary, doesn’t mean you’re not racist, hold racist beliefs or that you didn’t make a racist comment.

  • Just because you don’t say “nigger” or use other racial epithets doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
  • Just because you’re a “good” person, doesn’t mean you can’t be racist.
  • Just because you have a Black friend or friends, doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
  • Just because you “don’t see color” doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
  • Just because you listen to rap or hip-hop, doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
  • Just because you are nice to the Black person at work, the grocery store or in school, doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
  • Just because you say “African-American” instead of “colored,” or “negro” doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
  • Just because you voted for President Obama, doesn’t mean you aren’t racist.
Today's racism doesn't look like it did 50 years ago. It's not always as obvious as using the "n-word". Saying you're colorblind doesn't mean you aren't racist. Being a nice person doesn't mean you can't hold racist beliefs. | Read more from "Not Your Grandparent's Brand of Racism" on The Girl Next Door is Black
Illustration by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necochea |  Source

This isn’t the 1950s anymore. Today’s racism isn’t your grandparent’s brand of racism. Today’s racism is cloaked so well we can have a biracial black President, while unarmed black civilians are gunned down by law enforcement with seeming impunity.

Jim Crow Era Segregation Signs |  Today's racism doesn't look like it did 50 years ago. It's not always as obvious as using the "n-word". Saying you're colorblind doesn't mean you aren't racist. Being a nice person doesn't mean you can't hold racist beliefs. | Read more from "Not Your Grandparent's Brand of Racism" on The Girl Next Door is Black
A Florida sign from 1969 – Today’s racism isn’t always this obvious | Source
Some examples of what racism looks like today:

Unfortunately, the list goes on and on and on.

People sometimes refer to the regressive racism of their grandparents and sometimes their parents, while at the same time, dissociating themselves from such inane views. I wonder: what did their grandparents think of their grandparents beliefs?

What makes some people think they’re the magic generation that’s suddenly stopped racism in its’ tracks?

What will your grandkids say about your beliefs?

Can you think of other examples of present day racism? Have you experienced covert or subtle racism?

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The Sneaky Privilege in Greeting Cards


Greeting cards on display at retail.

Earlier this year I was lounging at Starbuck’s with my friend V, who is Chinese-American. A friend of hers, also Chinese-American, was getting married to a half-white/half Japanese-American man.

She told me, with some sheepishness, “You’re going to kill me, but I bought a card for ___ and ____ with white people on it.”

I laughed.

“Why would I kill you? It’s not like I’m some militant “black power” chick. ‘You must only buy cards with people of color on them!'”

She chuckled and nodded.

“But, let me ask you this,” I continued, “would you give one of your white friends a wedding card with a happy Asian couple depicted?”

She thought for a beat and answered, “No. No, I wouldn’t.”

“That’s all I’m saying. You can do what you want. But, if you would think twice about giving your white friend a card with a non-white person on it, why wouldn’t you think twice about the reverse?”

The answer is pretty simple. In our country, the dominant culture is white, of European ancestry. White is considered “normal” or the “default.” To not be white is to be different, other, a minority.

*****

When The Hunger Games movie was released last year, a subset of moviegoers were less than thrilled to discover that two of the characters, Rue and Thresh, were played by black actors. One particularly warm-hearted malcontent tweeted, “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad.”

Well, damn. To me, that comment suggests that this person doesn’t see a black life as valuable as a white life. Seems pretty racist to me.

Amandla Stenberg played Rue in "The Hunger Games" film. | photo cr: mockingjay.net
Amandla Stenberg played Rue in “The Hunger Games” film. | photo cr: mockingjay.net

As Anna Holmes rightly identified, in her article in The New Yorker on the “The Hunger Games” tweets, “…the heroes in our imaginations are white until proven otherwise.” Again, white is the default. Some people assumed Rue and Thresh were white. It should be noted, as people who read the books (including me) pointed out, the young adult novel explicitly mentions Rue “has dark brown skin and eyes” and Thresh has “the same dark skin as Rue.” Why shouldn’t there be black characters in The Hunger Games (or Asians or Latinos)? We exist too and we should also be represented, and not superfluously to fill an invisible quota or to simply play the sidekick propping up the white hero. Also notable about the book, is the fact that Rue and Thresh’s skin color was explicitly mentioned. Often when characters are white, their color isn’t addressed. It’s often only when a character is a person of color or otherwise “different” that their ethnicity or race is explicitly stated.

The fashion industry loves to use the words "nude" and "flesh" as colors.
The fashion industry loves to use the words “nude” and “flesh” as colors.

Many of my friends have heard me rant about the fashion industry’s use of the words “nude” and “flesh” as colors. Those colors are basically tan or beige, maybe peach. When I look at my flesh, it’s brown and decidedly not tan. When I am nude, I am still brown, not beige. Those color terms, as innocuous as they may seem, represent just a slice of how pervasive the dominant culture is in our country. “Nude” and “flesh” are normal. If I want an article of clothing or an undergarment that closely matches my skin tone, the color won’t be called “nude”, it’ll be “chocolate” or “deep brown” (and likely there will only be one dark shade, but many more lighter shades).

Concerning oneself with the lack of ethnic diversity in greeting cards, or taking umbrage at the terms used to describe colors in fashion may seem trivial to some. I very much disagree. It’s all too easy to internalize the idea that you are somehow inferior to the majority or the dominant culture, when you don’t readily see representations of people who look like you. When people who look like you are considered abnormal – outside of the norm.

I cannot count the number of friends of color who have shared with me stories of “the time they wanted to be white.” Their reasons varied from they “wanted to be like everyone else,” to they “wanted their family to be like the white families they saw on TV.” More harmfully, however, there were expressions of the desire to be more “conventionally attractive.” There were fears their nose was too wide, face too flat, butt too protruding, hair too nappy, skin too dark, eyes not large enough and so on. We, the “different ones”, should not have to live in a society where we feel excluded or somehow less than. The prevailing standard of beauty in this country is a European standard of beauty that more often than not, doesn’t include people of color. Yes, there are exceptions, exceptions some are all too quick to name when they want to avoid acknowledging potentially discomforting realities. However, these exceptions prove there’s an issue.

Some people of color bleach their skin to achieve the lighter, brighter tone they think is more desirable. | photo cr: politics365.com
Some people of color bleach their skin to achieve the lighter, brighter tone they think is more desirable. | photo cr: politics365.com

The famous “doll experiment” from the early 20th century aptly demonstrated the internalization and implicit acceptance of a white standard of beauty. A group of black children were given two dolls: one brown with dark hair and one white with blonde hair. They were asked questions such as which doll they’d prefer to play with, which was nicer, which doll had a nice color. The kids showed a clear preference for the white dolls. When the study was repeated in the 21st century, obviously with a different set of children, the results were sadly, quite similar.

Dr. Kenneth B. Clark conducting the Doll Test (Harlem, New York, 1947) © Gordon Parks
Dr. Kenneth B. Clark conducting the Doll Test (Harlem, New York, 1947) © Gordon Parks

I remember being told once as a kid, by a black female relative, “Don’t stay out in the sun too long; you’ll get too dark!” The subtext of that warning was, of course, that being “too dark” would make me less attractive. Internalized racism is real.

I don’t want to take anything away from anyone. I want to be equal. I should be able to feel good about the body I was born into. I deserve to feel good about the body I was born into. It’s real work to feel secure in a society that tells you that you aren’t normal. As much as I’ve built up my self-esteem, I still find traces of that internalized racism lurking down deep from time to time. It horrifies and disgusts me. Even a black woman, who is aware these issues exist, I am not impervious to their power.

It’s not just about a card (or a doll, or birthday decorations, or “nude and “flesh” colors) to me. It’s so much more.

The idea that we’re living in a “post-racial nation” is a bad, bad joke. We are still not equal. As long as these minor, but cumulative signs and symbols of racial power and subversion continue to exist, we are not and will not be equal. In the same way that women fought and continue to fight for equality, including challenging existing male-centered, patriarchal language, we have to do the same for people of color. This is a call to everyone to examine the ways in which our society still doesn’t acknowledge and include all of its citizens and work to change it.

From Hallmark's Mahogany line | photo cr: hallmark.com
From Hallmark’s Mahogany line | photo cr: hallmark.com

You can find greeting cards for purchase online that encompass diversity. However, it would be nice to be able to walk into a standard drugstore or greeting card store and have a varied, diverse set of greeting cards to choose from. There are Spanish-language greeting cards. Further, Hallmark has a separate line of greeting cards specifically for African-Americans. This is progress. However, these “speciality lines” are segregated in store displays. There are the “normal” cards with images of inanimate objects and / or white people and then there are the “other cards.” Segregation, even among greeting card displays, doesn’t demonstrate inclusion. It should be considered “normal” to have diverse sets of people represented on greeting cards, whether those people are black, white, Asian, Latino, multi-racial, gay, disabled, etc. The faces of Americans are ever-changing and our societal artifacts should reflect as much.

*****

A few days after our greeting card conversation, V and I visited Papyrus. V wanted to find a more suitable card for her friends. I’d picked up some Christmas cards there, one batch of which featured a tall, thin, brown-skinned woman, with long-flowing hair in a fashionable outfit. She didn’t look anything like me other than the brown skin, but it was a close enough representation for my satisfaction. We weren’t able to find a card representative of her friends, unfortunately, so she ended up purchasing a card without people on the front flap. Problem solved…for now.