Saturday, August 15, 2009

Not 'Acting' Any Damn Thing

This post was brought on by a post over at Raving Black Lunatic. Now I love that guy's blog. His writing always make me think and generally elicits some type of "Amen" from me. But the thing I really like is that when we disagree he will hear me out and generally will respond with a thought provoking argument to match my own. We don't always end up agreeing but we always end up with respect. I appreciate it. My point is that this is not a rebuttal and if you haven't checked him out yet, you should.

He brought up the 'acting white' issue in a very specific way, but as with most things having to do with race, there are many sides to each issue. I totally agree with him about his main point and I think that distilling the argument down to the idea that Black children don't like it when other Black children are smart or studious and equate that with acting White is crap.

My experience with race, like many people of color, has been painful. I get bombarded by the idea that I am not Black (or Black enough) from both White and Black people alike. It pisses me off and hurts.

I got it in middle school on a trip to Africa with a group of kids selected from across our school district for an exchange program. My grandfather is from Africa and even though we weren't going to Cape Verde I was excited to be going to the continent my family is from. The other kids I was going with weren't so excited to have me. I couldn't really figure out why. On one of our last nights there I was staying in a room with one of the other girls in the home of a family in Gabon and listening to Digable Planets on my walkman. When she found out that is what I was listening to she was shocked because, "I didn't think you really liked Black stuff". I had no idea where that was coming from and I didn't have an answer for her. How could I not like 'Black stuff'? I'm Black. WTF? Looking back now I see that when they were talking about favorite music and movies and TV shows I was generally the oddball. At that point I was all about The Indigo Girls, My So-Called Life and Kenneth Branaugh Shakespeare movies. The fact that those were my favorites didn't preclude all the other things I loved, things that my travelling companions could more easily relate to - but it never occurred to me that they wouldn't relate to what I liked. I was naive in the extreme, but I was never trying to deny or escape my race.

It happened over and over again until I finally got it through my thick skull that I had to be different versions of myself with different people. That was how I made it through high school - mostly. I was still called out in my Drama class by my personal albatross, DM (I would name him, but he seems like the kind of guy who Googles himself on a regular basis and I don't want to give that jackoff the gratification of seeing his name in print). There were three Black kids in my class: me, DM and Kenny. Kenny was the most gorgeous boy I had ever seen and I had a ridiculous and not very subtle crush on him. DM took great pleasure in humiliating me in front of Kenny as much as possible and it was always racially based. The worst time was when we talking about A Raisin In The Sun and he said, "You're not even Black, so just shut up." Now I know that there are assholes in every race. I get that. But it scars you in a different way.

My family did the same thing. Terry and Kelly are the Black sisters, Linda and I are the White ones. It's bullshit. I know that. It still hurts. (point of clarification - that never came from my mom - who is racially mixed herself, but from my dad and his side of the family)

From many White people I get the whole, "You're not really Black", comment. Like that is a good thing. Like they would have any idea of what Blackness is. As if there are fucking levels.

So I get it from all sides. But now I just live my damn life. I like what and who I like and I don't make apologies for it anymore. My family has learned to shut up, because I stand up. I've learned that although words can hurt me - only I can let them change me.

Still, there are scars. Because the community that I look to first for acceptance and identity still has the power to wound. I am a Black woman and as such I generally am not shocked by White people making racist or insensitive comments. I know that I have a responsibility to be the teacher in those 'teachable moments'. You just never expect it from your own, no matter how many times it happens.

So I live my life. I'm just another extremely complicated person in an extremely complicated world. And this is one of my sore spots. Part of who I Am.


Anonymous said...

I already feel weird enough trying to fit into life as a liberal guy who believes in the God and Jesus laid out in the Bible. I don't want to imagine what it's like to have to live up to the aspirations and expectations of substantial numbers of members of an entire racial bloc. And I won't ever have to, of course, because that's one of the many perqs of white privilege, for better or worse.

Much like my own wife, G, you've been your own person and stood up for yourself, it seems like (and my wife had plenty of so-called white interests in high school, too, the music of Duran Duran among them). That course can bring pain, of course, but I suspect its the truest, healthiest and best course of action in the long run.

I just hope it's a little less painful for my little 4-year-old multiracial girl than for you or my wife.

- Deacon Blue

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Anyone stupid enough to try to pigeonhole everyone for their own convenience doesn't deserve your pain, but of course you know that. We are nearly all ethnically mixed, even though most of us don't know our ancestry beyond a generation or two back. I think that being the child of multiple cultures is extremely lucky, despite the difficulties, because the more gene pools you draw from, the more unique and special you are.

G said...

Deacon - I hope it's easier for her too and I really think it will be. BTW Duran Duran had the first racially mixed music video couple on MTV (Hungry Like the Wolf). Which is not the first reason why I ADORE them, but is one of them. Your wife has great taste :-)

Hearts - everyone has thier cross(es) to bear. This just happens to be one of mine. I try to look at it like that, and succeed most of the time...
ps - i miss you! glad you found me!

Gye Greene said...


Ah. **There** you are...!!! (I'd given up checking your old blog.)

BTW - good post. :)

I find it ironic that a bunch of working-class/middle-class, medium-brown kids from the U.S. are in Africa, telling their colleague that **she's** not "black". (I'm assuming none of those kids spoke Kiswahili, Somali, or Bantu. Poseurs.)


Gye Greene said...

Oh: Mixed-Race stuff -- a really good book called BLACK, WHITE, OTHER. Available used, for about $3 + shipping, at --


G said...

I already read it, Guy, but thanks :-).

And yes - you found me!