I’m may end up regretting this, but I’ve come to feel that there’s really no way around it. I’ve tried to figure out how I could ignore what I’m feeling and move on to the stuff that I’d rather use this time to blog about, but it hasn’t worked. So here it is:
Lately, whiteness has been making me sick to my stomach. Thanks to the way that stress aggravates my lupus, I mean that literally. I wish that, along with throwing up my meals, I could release some of the stuff that’s been weighing down my soul. Unfortunately, things don’t work that way. Since I can’t flush it away, I’m going to see where writing about it takes me.
I’m a woman of color with reddish-caramel skin who proudly rocks a seriously nappy afro. It’s not hard for me to get through most social situations without anyone wondering about my ethnic background. When people look at me, they see a black woman. Nevertheless, I am a multi-ethnic/multi-racial/mixed woman and I have never shied away from making that quite clear to anyone who looked at me and made an assumption about my background.
Over the years, I could have saved myself a lot of grief if I’d have been willing to be a little bit quieter about the French and Irish part of my heritage. Throughout college, I caught a lot of flack from certain people of color who thought it was rather silly for someone with my features to identify as multi-ethnic. They advised, most people wouldn’t read me as anything other than black, so I should just be proud of my blackness and identify myself as that. Over the years, I’ve met plenty of multi-ethnic people who did make the conscious decision not to acknowledge the European part(s) of their ancestry, but I couldn’t relate to that. I simply didn’t feel like I needed to do that nor did I have the desire to–until now.
Lately, I’ve been wishing that I could get as far away from whiteness as possible. It’s kind of late, though. My partner? His family is German-American. My daughter? Her bio-dad’s family is a mixture of Creoles and Italians. In other words, they’re pretty white, too. The only two people in town that I could seriously call my friends? They’re also white. My world is very, very white.
My daughter’s world is really white, too. Before this year, she’d never really been bothered by that fact. She seemed to prefer hanging out with the white kids at school. She’s said she gets really tired of the black students who ask her if she’s mixed and sometimes tease her about it, too. Now that I think about it, of all the sleepovers she’s been to, only one of them was at the home of a child whose family wasn’t mixed, inter-racial or white.
I’ve never had any problem with who she was friends with. It’s really important to allow kids who are mixed to form their own ideas about who they are and what ethnic group(s) they feel most comfortable around. However, towards the end of the last school year, she started feeling increasingly uneasy around a couple of the (white) girls who had been her best friends since elementary school. It started with some extremely racist comments about my daughter’s hair and quickly escalated from there. It left my daughter and me feeling really shocked and wondering how we could have been so wrong about these particular girls and the parents who’ve raised them.
My partner is glad that our daughter isn’t friends with them any more. With increasing frequency, he’s been telling her that she ought to try and get closer with some of the people of color at school and hang out with them instead of the mostly white students she’s been close to for most of her life. At first, I thought he was just being funny. After all, looking at our family, you probably wouldn’t expect for him to be the one warning her against surrounding herself with white kids. In spite of that, after repeating it enough times, it became clear that he was very serious about this. I still felt relatively ambivalent.
Next year, our daughter will be attending a school for the crème de la crème of Louisiana students. When we were visiting the campus, we walked past a largish group of Asian-American students who were leaving the building. This surprised my daughter, because the school she comes from has very few Asian-Americans. My partner remarked that he thinks, in that highly-competitive and sometimes cutthroat environment like this one, it’s really smart for them to choose to hang out together. He repeated the Japanese saying that my sister taught us. It translates to, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”.
I can’t seem to get that thought out of my head lately. This thread on Feministe brought about a cascade of events that has left me re-examining some of my behavior on the internet and my beliefs about people.
Over the years, I’ve defended countless white people that I truly considered my friends. I never thought twice about fisking posts and spending considerable time on my own blog, oftentimes supporting white friends who were being verbally attacked. However, due to that “ad hominems” thread, I’ve seen a side of a lot of those folks that I wouldn’t have believed existed and it has hurt me more than I wanted to believe it could.
After being severely disappointed by the amount of unexamined white privilege exhibited in that thread, it got worse. I felt even more wounded by many of the conversations that followed it. Through the raincloud of tears, I started wanting to find some people of color that I could go to and just cry and cuddle and be comforted. Then, I realized something. I don’t have anyone I could do that with.
After Hurricane Katrina & Rita, all of my close friends who were people of color were forced to relocate to other areas. All of them. Some of us keep in touch, but the physical distance between us makes the amount of support that we can give each other quite limited. Making a phone call or sending a card in the mail is the most that we can do for each other most of the time.
My partner, who is the love of my life, has held me and tried to console me, but he can’t say he’s been there. He can’t say he understands what I’m going through. He can’t fulfill my need to have people around me who have experienced the effects of racism and white privilege in the ways that I have.
I do have a couple of women of color bloggers and people I’d consider allies who are in the circle of relationships that I’ve formed over the years. However, this incident woke me up to the fact that most of the folks that I regularly interact with online are not people of color.
When I first entered the feminist blogosphere (thanks to BrownFemiPower‘s Radical Women of Color blog), I met a lot of people of color. Somewhere along the way–I’m not even sure when it happened–I let some of those relationships go by the wayside, but you know what? Those women of color bloggers were the first ones who lovingly reached out to me when I expressed how I was feeling.
They didn’t assume that I was against Piny, just because I felt like there was something(s) seriously wrong about how it all went down. We were able to have a nuanced discussion about several common patterns of behavior on the internet, not just the one situation that many white bloggers were focusing on. We talked about issues of accountability within marginalized communities, creating safe spaces, boundaries, and recognizing allies.
I’m hoping that I can write about these subjects in the next two weeks, because the “ad hominems” thread and the ensuing fall-out has taught me several lessons. However, even if I don’t do anything else, I must admit that my sister and my partner were right.
The nail that sticks out does get hammered down.
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