Pax (funcrunch) wrote,

Blog against racism

I don't usually talk about race-related issues, but when I read the blog against racism post from waterowl, another biracial woman, I felt moved to speak out about my own life experiences.

My mother is black and my father is white. I am often mistaken for races other than black or mixed black/white. My favorite was when someone said, "You have a beautiful complexion. Are you French?" *shrug*

I went to elementary school in West Liberty, West Virginia, where as far as I can recall I was the only black child enrolled. The only black people I saw on a regular basis were at the state college across the street from our house. Yet, few people remarked much on my race, at least not to my face. The one overtly racist incident I recall was when a little white boy called me a slave and pushed me down a hill. I of course told my mother, who had a talk with his mother, and he never bothered me again. I felt more confused than angry about it at the time.

When I was 12 we moved to Pittsburgh, and I went from a semi-rural, WASP-ish school with fewer than 200 students to an urban middle school with over 1700, about 60% of whom were black. Here, it was the black kids who teased me mercilessly. I didn't talk right, I didn't have the right kind of hair, I didn't listen to the right kind of music. But I didn't care about race, which I considered entirely superficial. I just wanted to do well in school and play piano and act and sing and watch TV. I had friends of different races, but few of them were black.

My high school was in a heavily Jewish neighborhood. Probably fewer than 10% of the students in my "scholars" classes were black. People stopped teasing me about being "too white"; most of the black kids just ignored me I guess. Most of my friends continued to be white, not by choice, just because most of the kids I saw in my classes every day were white. My first boyfriend was white. I didn't see a problem with this. My mother had married a white man. Race was still entirely superficial to me.

When it came time to apply for college scholarships, I listed my race as black. Even though I am just as much white as black, I felt that I really needed the money and deserved it based on academic merit, not just my skin color. I got a National Achievement award and, later, a full fellowship to graduate school.

Come college time - Northwestern University. I figured, finally, a place where everyone is just here to learn and not get into stupid cliques based on skin color. Immediately I noticed that there was a "black table" in the cafeteria, a "black lounge" on my dorm floor and a "black house" down the street. All of these were self-selected, of course. It didn't make sense to me and I didn't hesitate to say so to my friends, who again, ended up being mostly white.

But then I began to see black students wearing T-shirts featuring Malcolm X holding a machine gun, with the slogan "By Any Means Necessary" on the front, and "It's a Black Thing, You Wouldn't Understand" on the back. Being a Republican at the time (really!) and a follower of Ayn Rand Objectivism, I was writing for a conservative student newspaper. I wrote an editorial column about those shirts, titled "I'm Black, and I Still Don't Understand".

Not only did I get hate mail and phone calls, I got threatening letters and faux-invitations from the KKK, which were also mailed to my mother at her home address. She phoned up the Black House and had words with one of the faculty members there, who was sympathetic (to me). The residential coordinator of my dorm - a white man - offered me safe space in his apartment if I needed it. I declined, but it was not easy living in my dorm for awhile, especially with my white Jewish boyfriend living down the hall.

The editorial came up again the following year, when I was participating in a Summer Research Opportunity Program, which was for all minority students but was overwhelmingly black. I felt that like the scholarship aid I received, I deserved it as much as anyone based on my financial need and academic merit, not just my skin color. But I was again accused by my fellow students of not being "black enough". (White students in my American Culture seminar accused me of racism too, by the way.)

I survived college and moved here to the Bay Area. Again, I hoped I was in a more enlightened place where people of different races could mingle freely. This time the reality was closer to my expectations. Though a few minor incidents do stand out in my mind.

One was an older white British man who I met online and began seeing casually very soon after moving here. He had downstairs neighbors who were black and often made a lot of noise. He began characterizing black people as noisy in general. I asked him why he would say such a thing in front of me. He didn't understand why this would bother me.

Another was a Chinese friend I was attracted to, who had begun dating a white woman and had to convince his traditional-minded parents to accept her. We were talking with some other friends about the situation and he or someone else said something to the effect of "At least he's not bringing you home", and everyone laughed, including my then-boyfriend (who was white). I laughed a little too, but it stung.

Another in that group of friends was white and had been dating a Chinese woman, who his family was OK with though hers was not. That friend said that his mother said if he ever brought a black woman home, she would smile, then go to her room and quietly have a heart attack. He didn't laugh about or condone this, but it still bothered me that there could still be educated, intelligent people who felt this way.

Now I am married to a white man, boyziggy, who is as color-blind as you can get, and I don't think either of us gives race a second thought on most days. The main times I've been confronted with it is when visiting online dating sites, and marveling at the ads where people specify the race of the person they desire to date. On bad days I would wonder if my race was preventing me from getting dates, then quickly realize that I would never even want to date someone for whom race would be a factor.

I don't deny people a desire to share in a common culture, whether it be music, food, or what have you. I just cannot fathom deciding whether to be friends or lovers with someone based on something as superficial as how much melanin is in their skin.

I am not a religious or even particularly spiritual person, but I have a revelation to share. Sometimes in quiet moments, just before falling asleep, I hear a voice speaking to me. The voice sounds like my own, but I recognize it as Truth. One of the things this voice says is that all societal divisions based on race are just flat-out wrong. To me this wisdom is not to be questioned; it is simply Truth.
Tags: intl blog against racism week

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