Archive for the ‘Race Matters’ Category

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Jena 6:: So Ya’ll Niggas Thought We Were Free Huh?… silly rabbit, tricks are for kids

September 20, 2007
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Traveling While Black :: Brazil Is For Everyone!

May 3, 2007

After having traveled a little bit through other countries in SA, I must say that Brazil is a very easy country for a Black girl such as myself to be in. Which is probably why I have run into more Black Americans while here than White Americans (which never fucking happens to me I must say. If I see one I do such a happy dance you would think I never saw melanin in my life). You aren´t hassled as if you are a tourist (therefore rich) and people don´t automatically assume that you are poor and a thief or just the scum of the fucking earth in general. As long as you don´t open your mouth noone assumes that you are anything other than an ordinary Brazilian. So I can walk the streets here and people don´t pay any attention to me. In Argentina women would look at me and clutch their bags tighter after making comments about thieving Brazilians (I do in fact speak a little Spanish and I understand much more than you could imagine tiny Argentinian lady!) and in Chile all conversation would stop as they stared me down the street. Brazil is such a relief after feeling like a leper for the past couple of months.

Having said that, that could be said about any race of people in Brazil just about. There are locals that look like they just got off the plane from Norway, Nigeria, Japan, Mexico, Germany, and every other country that you could imagine, not to mention everyone who falls in that infamous Brazilian “in between” (i.e. mulatto) category. Brazil for everyone! Come have a caipirinha!

I must say this is the easiest country I´ve traveled to so far, and they are pretty used to seeing us as well. I swear if one more doorman asked me if I was working for the students upstairs (that I was in fact living with because I too was a student) I was gonna lose my damn mind. I love Brazil. If only they didn´t speak this weird ass Portuguese I´d move to this wonderland.

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The Myth of the Beautiful Mulatto :: A True Melting Pot Experiment

May 3, 2007

So there is alot of hype surrounding how beautiful Brazilian women are. Almost as if it´s a country full of these beautiful mystical magical temptresses, all with defined legs and abs and just the right amount of lusciousness in the butt and the chest. Seems like its damn near every mans dream to get to Brazil and have a freak fest at some point in his life. Now mind you Brazil is a VERY large country and it´s as different geographically and culturally from one coast to the next as America is. Some regions its hard to find a “White” person, others you won´t find “Blacks” at all. However, having traveled on the Northeastern Side down to Rio in the South, I must say that the myth of the Brazilian woman just isn´t true. But how could it? No country of women could live up to the reputation that Brazilian women have developed. Are there good looking women here? yes. More than anywhere else? Well now that depends on your definition of beauty…..

From what I have been told about 40% of Brazilians identify themselves as mulatto. I´ve been in the country for over a week now and I am still very unclear about what exactly constitutes a mulatto, because its a very different definition than what we consider mixed in the States. For example, someone who would be considered a bona-fide- no-questions-asked Black person in the US, would usually be considered mixed here. For Blacks in the US, if you have an ounce of Black blood in you…. you are Black, no if ands or buts about it regardless of what you call yourself. Though this is changing with each new generation of brown children, as it currently stands at the end of the day you are Black if anyone can find it anywhere in your face, body, or hairline. As far as I can tell, the way it works here is that if you do not look first generation West African yet you aren´t Anglo enough to pass for white than you are mulatto. What is considered White here is also a very foreign concept as well seeing how some who call themselves White, who feel they are light enough to ¨pass¨ would be laughed at and called traders in the States. A funny funny very tricky thing race is. So ever present and real, and yet it is a completely abstract category for identification. It hurts my heart to see so many people people who will do anything to get out of being identified as Black in most places in the world, but in truth we only abandoned this notion in the States rather recently (circa the Black Power Movement).

There are so many people here who are are mixed racially, that categories are very difficult to define. Noone has yet been able to give a definitive answer on what group I would belong to here because so much of it is tied to socioeconomic class as well.

So I´ve decided that all the hype about beautiful Brazilian women is really about this being a country populated with people who fulfill the “O aren´t mixed kids just so cute! It´s like the best of both worlds!” notion. Fucking disgusting. So what makes the women here so special as compared to any others? The “exoticness” that comes when you mix races. One doesn´t even need to come to Brazil to witness this. The Brazilian women that are considered the most beautiful (such as those represented in the media) are not the ones that represent the masses of the country, but rather those who have achieved that “special blend” of mulatto, meaning they have preserved Anglo features while sporting naturally tawny tan skin and curviness that can only be achieved with a bit of Negro in your blood. The Portuguese people came here with the intent of mixing with the indigenous Indians and the African slaves to create their own new race of people to inhabit this land and from looking around I will say that they have just about achieved that. Taking into account all of the skin tone issues that Blacks still deal with in the States it is hard for me to be enchanted by the all of these so-called beautiful people. Frankly, it just makes me sad because it is yet another reminder that what is naturally of African descent/Black is far from ever fulfilling the aesthetic of what is beautiful, not just in the US but all over the world. How depressing.

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Searching For Roots:: Where Does Africa Stop and the Americas Start?

April 30, 2007

So needless to say I got over myself from my bout of international break down. Funny how a good nights sleep, changing to a private hotelesque room, and some good company can change ones perspective. I went on to have an absolutely FANTASTIC week last week.

Last Thursday, the afternoon began with taking a trip to Pelourinho; the historic center of Salvador. It looks like what I imagine Cuba to look like. We saw block after block of brightly colored crumbling, yet charming old buildings and churches. As we stopped for lunch we met a woman (sweaty, swarmy, wierd, lesbianwhokeptlookingatmyfriendlikeshewasdessert) at the cafe who offered to assist us with a translation of the Portuguese menu seeing how she spoke fluent English. Then she invited herself to our table (which I must note for me was initially a little disconcerting as I am particularly suspicious of strangers while traveling) and started going on about one thing or another. That woman and the craziness that occurred as a result of meeting her deserves its own separate post, but not now.

….Anyway, the day consisted mostly of going to the Afro-Brasilia museum and then we went a Folkloric Show in the San Miguel Theatre in Pelourinho. Both of them were pretty phenomenal for plenty of reasons. The museum gave alot of history in terms of the conditions of the slave trade in Salvador with alot of artifacts and art made from some of the first Africans to arrive in Brazil. The folkloric show was a artful depiction of many different sides of Salvador, the candomble (religion for 80% of Salvadorians) ceremony, capoeria, and carnival. It was fantastic!…however it´s pretty much a touristy thing to do. So the next night we went with said mad crazy sweaty lady (o such a long story) to an authentic candomble ceremony where a woman was being initiated into the religion. Between all three of these events, it was hard not to feel as if I was in Africa. Even the candomble ceremony was in Yoruba (large ethno-linguistic group primarily in Nigeria), since 20% of Salvadorians speak Yoruba.

Most of the slaves dropped off in Brazil were from Nigeria and that rings loud and true in Salvador. It´s such a experience having just left Nigeria a few months ago, and then making the voyage to Brazil. In some ways Salvadorians are more African than the Africans. From what I have read and from what I can discern, one of the large differences between slavery here and in the States is that the Africans were allowed to maintain alot more of their culture. So while we grasp for the strands of Africa left in our black roots in the states, in Salvador they don´t need to look for it because it never left.

The crazy mad woman that we met was saying that a large portion of their visitors are African-Americans who are “looking for roots”, which is exactly what I am here for. When you are traveling around and meeting other travelers, the first thing you do is exchange travel itineraries and the reason how and why you are traveling around. When I met white folks and told them that I was going to Salvador they were always like “hmm, but why there”, I just say for historical purposes and leave it at that. When I tell Black folks that I´m going to Brazil (those who know a bit about the slave trade that is), their first response is “So are you going to Salvador?”, to which I reply of course! I came here knowing that I needed to get here, but I didn´t know exactly what I was trying to see. Nevertheless, I am even more satisfied than I anticipated.

Seeing how I was just in Africa, and then Trinidad, and now Brazil its almost as if I have taken my own little transatlantic journey of the slave trade. My professor from college always spoke about the “footprints of Africa left wherever they dropped us off”, and I now see it with my own eyes. As I´ve watched the parties in Lagos, carnival in Trinidad, and candomble and samba in Brazil there are so many parts that have an eerie familiarity. Candomble ceremonies are so strikingly close to many Black churches (particularly Pentecostal) that it was an even more enlightening experience than I expected, and Carnival even with its madness is damn near a spiritual experience itself.

Looking for Roots, but why? I´ve been wondering that to myself as I´ve been traveling lately, why as Black Americas are there so many of us leaving the country (myself included) trying to discover ourselves in another country? What is this obsession with finding a mystical origin? After being in Brazil it makes perfect sense. There are very few other places in the world where slaves were dropped off and their descendants are outnumbered by those that enslaved/oppressed/colonized…other than Brazil. The difference between Brazil and the US is that they were allowed to keep large parts of their culture so their complete identity wasn´t stripped from them. On the islands Blacks remain the majority so they were in the position to create a new identity. As American Blacks, what were we left with after slavery culture wise? Empty space. We weren´t and still aren´t full fledged card carrying American citizens (I don´t give a damn what the law is), more like the slaves who turned uninvited guest who just just wouldn´t take their asses home. So there is this void that makes us “different” but what sort of history do we have to hang that “difference” on? Hip Hop? Martin Luther King? ok back further, Nat Turner? Somehow all of that is not enough to hang our cultural pride, so we struggle to find out cultural Zen.

…so we search for the part that makes us proud, the part that says we belong, the part that validates our existence for being something other than the unwanted stepchild of a major World Power. Sadly, in that search we are rarely satisfied because some things can never be reclaimed.

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Mistaking Me For A Black Jesus:: Confessions of the Absurd….

April 20, 2007

Time after time while traveling in Argentina and Chile I am always not only the Black American, but the only Black face ever, anywhere (no longer the only minority period thanks to two Asians from Texas and one from NYC, gooooo color crew!). Not really a big deal, I’m a professional only. However instead of being surrounded only by American bred Whites, I am surrounded by European Whites….. that presents a whole new set of racial problems that I’ll post about later. Too often in the past couple of months, particularly after lots of wine, beer,  and local liquor has been flowing I find myself cornered by some British/Dutch/German/Swedish/Norway student confessing their racist sins to me as if I have some sort of power to absolve them from their sins. They range from small to the great.

“I’ve always wanted to sleep with a Black man, I’ve heard loads about the size of their cocks” ….with a pair of shiny bright eyes glowing up at me eagerly, what does one reply to that?

“Tell me, is it true was I really born genetically deficit for pleasing a woman?….are Black men really larger, ya know… down there”

………I know we have been hyper sexualized for centuries, but who knew so many fools were still actually obsessed with the size of the Black penis?

Then there are the others………

“I have stood by and done nothing while minorities in the program (umm, that would be me….and umm me) were referred to in, umm, harsh…..and ::racist:: terms …..I’m so sorry”

“I lived in the States for awhile ……..the Blacks are so colorful, even if they are as lazy and violent as everyone says.”

“I could never ever be attracted to an Afro-Caribbean woman, I mean a part of me wouldn’t mind taking one for a test drive ya know what I mean…… I like other races well enough ya know, but I just couldn’t ever be attracted to ya know, that kind of person, THAT kind of look…. but no offense love, your quite lovely” …..uuumm, what?

This doesn’t happen once, or twice but constantly. What the hell do people actually expect me to say to them? Do I wave my magical Black hand over their head, douse them with wine and proclaim that they have been forgiven for all racist/discriminatory thoughts? What exactly are they expecting?

I had a Dutch roommate last week that told me during a conversation that started off on religion in our respective countries and some how turned into her saying “Holland has a serious immigrant problem right now with North African/Middle Eastern particularly Turkish Immigrants and they screw up everything in our country because they are all horrible people”. Umm all of them? Umm did she forget she was sitting in a room with a Black woman? The best part was she kept saying over and over again how she wasn´t a racist and how Hollands problem was that they were the most friendly tolerant unracist people on the face of the planet. “I’m not a racist at all. I don’t have a racist bone in my body” was all she kept saying after I was clearly perturbed. I replied that hers is the kind of fucked up attitude that Blacks/people of color/immigrants fight in the States and its so absurd that anyone would think it was better in Europe (the lie they teach up growing up… just because Josephine Baker found refuge there in the 20s doesn’t make it better in modern comparisons). She then went on to say how she didn’t understand racism in America. I told her that I didn´t know why because what she just said was racist. Who was I to be surprised seeing how, the English, the Dutch, the Spanish went running around the world colonizing and enslaving every person possible while spreading “civilization”. Those fuckers created racism…until the Germans could perfect it. She kept telling me how she knows that she it probably SOUNDS racist to me, but that’s just because I don´t know these people. I told her that it probably doesn´t SOUND racist to her because she thinks that she does know these people.

………..I’m suffering from European overload this week. I usually try to avoid Americans while traveling, because that’s whole point of traveling, to meet people you usually wouldn’t right? But with the nonsense that I’ve put up with, the superior attitude, snotty uninformed anti-American sentiment every single day (plenty of reasons to hate Bush and America, but if you’re going to run your mouth off get your facts straight from hearsay)……… I steer clear of the Euro’s here. If one more person calls me an Afro-Caribbean….as if all of us colored are the same, or puts their hand into my fluffy fro without asking again I’m going to lose my natural black mind. I just can’t take it anymore because unfortunately I do not have the powers of some mystical magical negro and I can´t wash away racist sins or discriminatory thoughts and frankly I´d rather they keep this shit to themselves. Who do I look like, Black Jesus? ….I don´t know, maybe It´s the fro.

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The Obstacles of White Friendship and The Politics of Being “The Only”

August 26, 2006

When you are a Black woman who lives and works in the Midwest it is not unusual that somewhere in your daily life you are “the only”. You are the only Black face in the grocery store, your school, the library, the deli, and especially in your job. It can get to a point where you being the only Black person everywhere all the time becomes an intrinsic part of your identity. As an only, its almost as if you have that special responsibility because like or not you are the representative for the entire Black race to a great number of white people. You begin to feel like you are the agent, the promoter, the spokesmodel, and the PR rep for everyone with a hint of melanin in their skin. Next thing you know your friends are white, your co-workers are white, the baker is white, the guy who washes your car is white and you walk around every single moment of every single day knowing that you are always the ink spot.  Always.  As whites around you feel more comfortable, they let their lips get a little too loose and they get sloppy about letting their white privilege show through. They ask you the most insane questions that are totally inappropriate, as if you have “1-800-ask-a-negro” imprinted on your forehead. They make comments that at worst are racist and at best culturally insensitive and they don’t even seem to realize their error. When this occurs, as “the only” you basically have three options:

  1. Go scary black woman on them until they cry in the broom closet.
  2. Ignore totally and move the fuck on for the sake of keeping the peace and not being labeled the scary black woman obsessed with making everything about race.
  3. Use the instance to provide a learning opportunity and open up some dialogue and educate them.

At various times I have done all three. After being back in the Midwest for 2 years, I’m fucking exhausted. I’m tired of being the angry Black woman always bringing up that uncomfortable issue of race. I’m tired of having to educate white folks all the time on how to not be assholes, and why what they said or did is actually an asshole comment or action, and the history behind it.  And I’m tired of saying nothing in order to keep the peace, my job, or a friendship.

Not that this doesn’t occur all over the country,……or all over the world for that matter, but it’s a particular brand of ignorance and covert racism that you deal with when you deal with people who have honestly never actually had a conversation with a person of any color, much less a actual relationship. This is why I left this god-forsaken place in the first place. It is even more difficult to be back home after going to undergrad at Howard in the middle of chocolate city, where for four years I didn’t have to deal with being the inkspot.

Example: on at least 5 occasions in the past two years a white stranger has put their hands in my natural. It has happened in line at the grocery store, restaurants, bars, and on an airplane. I am shocked and stunned every time it happens to me. When it happens my mouth just sits agape and it’s as if a part of my brain shuts down from the shock and horror from the realization that I have just been petted. What the hell is up with that any fucking way? Did you really just put your white fingers in my fro and expect that to be okay with me? Do I look like horse to you? Did I make a wrong turn and I am actually at a petting zoo ….because I thought that I was in line at the grocery store just trying to buy some fucking fruit snacks? After my mind recovers from the shock the offensive white usually receives option #1: the angry black woman.

The trickier part is when a situation happens and it’s with a friend, a co-worker. To be a white friend of mine you have to be a lot more socially consciousness than the average. But even supposed conscious whites make the mistake of not respecting boundaries and playing into typical stereotypes at some point. This is where it becomes sticky territory. Co-workers and friends who feel like they have a certain level of friendship with you conveniently forget that you are Black and say the craziest shit to you on a regular basis. Time to apply option #3 and use it as an educational opportunity? Maybe, and I have. Maybe that is the stately, I’m the bigger person, very Martin Luther Kingesque way to go about things…..but let me just say this as someone who is young, black, and angry at heart….. I’m so fucking tired of educating whites on every goddamn thing from don’t touch my fucking hair…..to please don’t believe everything about Black people you see on T.V…….and yes just because your boyfriend is Black, you too can be a racist asshole….. to no affirmative action is not in fact ruining your life. I’m tired and disgusted beyond explanation.

However, I struggle with my disgust. As “the only”, if I don’t point out their missteps then who will? Isn’t the purpose of friendship so that you can learn from each other? Don’t we fight to end racism by education? Haven’t I learned so much from my diverse group of friends from other countries, cultures, religions, etc.? I know it’s a different situation because part of what is so offensive is that its coming from this place of white privilege and power and that it perpetuates the notion that anything non-Anglo is at best exotic and “other” and at worst vile, dangerous, and ugly. However, these are people I care for and while I don’t tip toe around anyone nor do I babysit my white friends on issues of race, it can still be a sticky situation trying to determine how and when to call someone on their racist shit. Some people deserve to cry in the broom closet for being called a racist, others just need to be corrected.