Tag Archives people of color

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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My “Mindy Project” Moment With a Guy On the Elevator

photo cr: Demom Media
photo cr: Demom Media

I marathoned season one of The Mindy Project during the summer television drought. I developed a girl crush on the lead character, Mindy Lahiri, almost immediately. She’s me. She’s my friends! Mindy’s an educated, single, professional woman in her early 30s, living in Boston. She’s a relatable blend of endearingly awkward, at times second-hand-cringe-inducingly awkward, feisty, ready to go head-to head with the funniest of dudes in a battle of quips, unabashed lover of pop culture, with a fabulous style exhibited by her flyass enviable wardrobe. And she’s brown! She’s a brown girl on TV, Indian-American to be more specific, and her brownness is not the focus of her character’s life. She gets to be “normal.”

Mindy, much like the Rachel McAdamses, Reese Witherspoons and Sandra Bullocks of the romantic comedy films she adores, is steady meeting cute dudes in random places, like the elevator. Elevators are like a goldmine for hot dates in her world. I remember in college reading stupid articles in Cosmo with titles like, “How to Get Him to Notice You,” which they seemed to repackage every issue using similarly uninspired titles and not dissimilar content. [How many different sex positions could Cosmo possibly find in the almost 50 years of its existence? They are either making shit up, inventing new and uncomfortable positions or slowly parsing out pages of the Kama Sutra until they run out.]

Cosmopolitan (magazine)
75 moves? Yeah right! | photo cr: Wikipedia

As Cosmo explained, eligible single men are everywhere! That cutie in the grocery store eyeing those cantaloupes? He’s hoping you’ll make the off-color joke about the large melons he’s checking out. The hottie at the gym who’s grunting like a warthog as he bench presses 500lbs? He’s just trying to get your attention. Do a little booty shake as you do your lunges and he’ll drop those weights and make a beeline for you. Or there’s the good ol’ elevator. Don’t be afraid to make eye contact with that handsome stranger in the business suit! He could be your soulmate.

I don’t know where to find these magic elevators from the Cosmo world, because most of the tech dudes in my office building act as though they fear exchanging words with females. “Have boobs? Won’t speak.” Furthermore, nobody wears suits in this city and if they do, they stand out like a contraband plastic bag in the grocery store.

Yesterday evening, I had a Mindy moment!

As I walked out of my office suite into the elevator bank we share with the company across the hall, a guy asked me, in a way that made me think his own question surprised him, “How was your day?”

Was he talking to me? I looked around. Yep, juuuuust me.

I smiled with hint of confusion and answered, “It was pretty good. How about yours?”

He was wearing a faded-red shirt and jeans. The shirt wasn’t faded, red as in “bled out in the washer”, but a distressed shade of red. The distinction is important. A messenger bag hung from his shoulder. I decided he was cute, his voice appealing and best of all, age appropriate.

Elevator Ride (what I have done for a living s...

The elevator arrived (“Doors opening,” announced the disembodied voice who for some reason has a British accent) and we entered. I figured the conversation would naturally die as others were already in the car.

“I’m leaving at 5:30,” he continued, “so it has to be good.”

“Oh? Is that not normal?”

“Nope, I usually work until 8:30. There are only four of us, so it’s not like anyone is forcing us to work late. We just do.” He seemed bemused.

Hold up.

Am I actually having a conversation with this dude? Like for real?

We exited into the lobby. I thought, say something funny!

“Haha. I wonder why that is. Maybe the force of the…(blah blah blah not funny, you fool!).”

Were he not present, I would have slapped myself upside my own head.

I added, “Haha. I don’t even know where I was going with that theory.” Like a damn fool who doesn’t know how to have a proper conversation.

He chuckled. “No, I think I get it. Haha. You’re probably thinking, ‘this guy is weird!'”

Uh, no. Not at all.

Intersection
Intersection dilemma | Photo cr: lukeroberts

We were on the street outside now. A few feet away was the intersection. Now what? Are we walking the same way? If we are, do we keep walking and talking? What if he was just being polite and wants me to stop babbling at him? If we’re going separate ways, should I pretend I’m going his way anyway in case he is chatting me up? This is what I hate about being single at my age. You’re always second guessing your natural instincts because even though you know you do “put yourself out there” and “present yourself as open and receptive to attention” and all the other repetitive phrases with undercurrents of unintentional judgment from helpful loved ones who want to see you boo’d up and not end up a crazy cat lady, you can hear their words in the recesses of your mind. By this point, Mindy Lahiri probably would have rattled off three or four cute quips and scored a date. Yes, I am aware she is a sitcom character.

I could see our bodies subtly moving in opposite directions. We were headed different ways.

“Well, I’m this way,” I tried to say as brightly as possible with a subtext of “I am open to more conversation possibly over a drink, but not in a desperate ‘make me your baby mama’ way.”

“Ok,” he replied. I couldn’t decipher his expression. He smiled though and said, “See you tomorrow.”

Will we? See each other tomorrow? I don’t recall seeing him ever before. This man from the elevator who talks to humans who have ovaries. Will there be more to this story? Who knows? At least I got an elevator moment! Well…kinda. No date. No soulmate (I don’t even think I believe in that). An elevator conversation with someone cute? I’ll take it!

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.