The Quiet Voice of Rage 2
I wonder if this was the voice of rage, or the voice of shame.
To be honest, barbara, I didn't know if this was your autobigraphical story or someone else's story. You never mentioned having a young black-puerto rican boyfriend, so I am not sure. But you didn't credit it to anyone, and I know when you reprint text you usually do. So having said that, here's what I think.
ack..I have started and restarted this email a million times and I can't seem to say what I want to say. So maybe I will just tell you about me instead.
Growing up, I was often embarrassed for black people. The images of us on television were clowning, caracatures, stereotypes. And then when I would see black people out on the streets, especially in mixed company (meaning white, Asians, Latinos, etc. were around), acting the fool in some way, talking too loud, talking smack, somehow fulfilling the stereotype and confirming what I figured was someone's racist opinion, I would cringe inside.
I distinctly remember things like Patty Benevides' cousin (Patty was my Latina next door neighbor growing up) saying "You're OK for a black person." Or my white cousins' insightful "You don't smell funny like black people do. Why not?" Or even one of my best friend's, Wendy, telling me her mom said it was OK for me to come over because "I wasn't really black."
These were defining moments in my youth because these were times that I could point to where I defeated the stereotype. Someone, for one moment, saw that black people where more like them than they had previously imagined. And I thought that was good. But I also felt the burden of trying to be a shining symbol for my race. A symbol my race didn't need or ask for, I might add. But I was young and growing up in a very racist Texas and trying hard to be liked.
Of course there were plenty of times when I failed miserably. In third grade I wasn't allowed in my best friend Selena Rodriguez's house because I was black. My first crush, Mark Ruiz, made me return the bear he gave me because his older brother, all of 6th grade, said Mark wasn't allowed to date black girls. And I could name countless other times I have been on the recieving end of someone's racist action or stereotype. (I can't remember the number of times I have been called a nigger by someone, once a stranger walking past me in a grocery store, once some kids driving by in a car). These are only the incidents I was aware of! I don't want to know how people judge me in stores, hailing a taxi, just walking down the street.
When I was older I also, like Robert, went away to an elite private college. I know what it is to enter such foreign surroundings. To be thrown into a world of, for the most part, privledged white kids, and to feel both disgust and envy. Not to mention that suddenly race is completely politicized. I once dated a guy (who went to Oberlin, actually) who referred to my Filipina friend as a Asian Pacific Islander American. He also read books like "This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Women of Color". But for all his trying to be PC, he was hopelessly hyperaware of race. There he was, reaching out to the Other, reading up on the oppression of a bunch of academics, and not even seeing the kind of daily racist stuff that really impacted my life.
Graduating from that environment, I can easily imagine what it would be like to have someone I care about come visit me at home and have something about where I am from be pointed out as failing or inferior. I would feel embarassed. Shamed. Wishing that my people could just act right. Put babies to bed on time. Not drink in public. The sort of simple things that you think white people might judge you for.
Now I am even a little older than before. I pretty much try not to care anymore what people think, black, white, Asian, Latino, whatever. I know I will always be judged and I am tired of trying to fight a wealth of racist programming and media sterotypes, etc. I can only be me and let people be who they are and try not to let too much prejudice get in between that. But I wasn't always so calm about it all. And I am sure there will be days when I won't be as calm as I am now.
I admit I still get a twinge of that old impulse when Turtle talks about her abusive black ex-boyfriend, wishing that he was any race but black because that makes us look bad. Or someone else on the list told a story about how they knew someone who was mugged by a black person and now they fear blacks and I cringe, wishing that their mugger could have been white, cause God knows they aren't going to go around irrationally fearing whites all the time!
I know this is horribly long, but you asked. And the story of what racism does to the soul is even longer than this, but I do have a life to live and too much remembering isn't good for the soul.
© copyright, 1999, Rebecca Parrish