Last night (well, technically this morning) at my work I was loading an Arizona trailer with my friend and co-worker Wendy. It was a slow night so we were able to talk about a lot of things: from music, to relationships, to school, language, and so on. During the conversation it somehow got steered toward race (probably my doing). Wendy, 34 and Nicaraguan (she moved her permanently as a teenager), told me how it was very hard for her to explain to her youngest daughter (who's Latino and Black, but looks very much Black) that she wasn't white. She said that one day her daughter told her that she was white and Wendy, probably very carefully, had to tell her daughter that she wasn't white, but instead very Black, and Latino as well.

"No! I'm not Black!" She yelled. "I'm white! I'm white!" She was about four years old when this happened. She now realizes (she around eight or nine I think) that she is Latino and Black but this gives us a window, and the opportunity, to see how pervasive racism is in our society.

Growing up (and still today) all she saw in the media was white faces. White faces on billboards, white faces in movies (Disney no doubt), white faces on the sides of buses, taxi cab signs, buildings, commercials, and TV shows. All she probably saw was white faces. If she saw any type of people of color at all in the media it was probably on debates about whether or not Latinos should be U.S. citizens or a rise in the rate of homicides and crime in Oakland's Black community. So all she probably ever saw relating to Black people were (and still are) negative stereotypes. All she probably ever saw of white people were positive stereotypes: the leading role, the princess, the beauty queen, etc.

So it would make perfect sense for someone who is aware and conscious of today's ills (and someone who is of color) to see why she reacted the way she did and why she yelled out. "No! I'm not Black!"

Another friend of mine told me he cried when he found out he wasn't white because not being white meant not being "normal" since all he saw in the media (and in his school) were white faces. Another one of my friends didn't know he wasn't white until he was five or six, and that fact, he told me, confused the Hell out of him.

So if you ask me how deep racism and white cultural supremacy runs throughout Western society and in America. It's that deep.

Image From:
Gone Movie


Daniel said...

How terrible the racism is! Actually, I am a black. I am very pround of being a black. I never want to call myself a white. Wendy would never cover the color anytime to her daughter.

Daniel Pernant

plez... said...

I still cry during that scene in the black & white version of "Imitation of Life" when the little girl denies that the lady who came to the school was her mother. The little girl was passing for white and her mother was obviously Black.

In a society where it is so important to fit in, and where there is usually no advantage to being Black... it is very difficult to explain race and WHY we have to be like the way we are. I have a 5 year old daughter, who is very well adjusted, but she insists on being called brown. "Daddy, we're not Black, we're Brown!"

Most of the children in her class are white with a few Asians and Hispanics, and two other Black boys. She plays and socializes with everyone in the class (today she went to her best friend's - they say that they are twins; her friend is white - birthday party), but my wife and I go to great lengths to ensure that she sees Black people in a positive light: her pediatrician in Black, we live in a predominantly Black neighborhood in metro Atlanta, my wife and I are active with our respective Black Greek Alumni, and we never give her reason to think that being Black is any worse (or any better) than being white.

But this takes a conscious, deliberate, and constant effort to combat the institutional racism that pervades Amerian society.

Jack Stephens said...

daniel: Thanks for the comment. Although I'm not sure I know what you mean by "Wendy would never cover the color anytime to her daughter." Wendy is very proud of her Latino heritage and also wants her kids to be proud of their skin color as well.

Plez: It's a pleasure to have you comnent on the blog. I read your blog about every week or so and enjoy it very much. Thanks for the very insightful comment.

Anonymous said...

That's really sad. It's white privelige in North America. People take for granted that if all of your positive role models are of a different race, then you devalue your own race. If kids get more dolls, books, and positive Black role models then some of these, or I dare to dream all of these feelings of inferiority can be prevented.