Stories of Post-Modern Race Relations

I did it.

I grew up in the South. I heard all the indoctrination. I followed all the rules.

Then one day, I decided it was pointless. I always knew it was pointless, but one day I stopped pretending to think it was okay.

Modern-day segregation. You know phrases like “they should stick to their own kind”, or “they’re taking away all the good black men” or “she’s a sell-out” or “turning your back on your own race”.

Personally, I don’t own a race. I don’t claim a race, don’t subscribe to one, don’t run any either.

I’ve always felt uncomfortable and at odds with the ideas and conversations around race that make-up mainstream thought(if there is a such thing).

Recently I was reading “Spanglish Baby” and came across this article on culture.

I was walking around my neighborhood last week with my daughters and overheard a conversation between two dark skinned boys between 8-11 I’d say. The bigger boy said was asking the little boy if he was racist. He said “If you treat someone different because of their race, do you do that?” the little boy answered “Sometimes.” and the bigger boy said plain and bravely, “That’s not okay, that’s racist.” I was so happy to hear these little boys have such an honest and important conversation. This little boy understood something some adults don’t seem to understand. Racism is simple. Anyone can be racist, not only certain “races”.

I know that a lot of children have insecurities regarding their skin color, culture, upbringing and other characteristics seemingly related to their race. Lots of children of African ancestry (in Western countries at least) have complexes and desires related to the inferior nature of dark skin. It is inherent in the media and modern culture that straight hair and fair skin is considered normal, ideal, while the rest of us can expect to see a sidekick every now and then that resembles us. For children this speaks a lot. Children don’t understand the nuances of media misrepresentations and it is no doubt internalized.

When I was younger I had the idea that lighter skin was better. Straighter hair was more beautiful and considered “good hair” and “black” features were to be hidden and led to shame. As a teenager I took care of younger dark children who literally wished they could have blonde hair and “white” skin. I find this to be extremely sad. I’ve been trying my best to shield my daughter from these issues.

I decided to really be myself and reject all labels.  At some point I stopped letting myself get held back by limiting fears of prejudice or racism.  I certainly was never so paranoid as to think that people of other races couldn’t be trusted, couldn’t be friends, and couldn’t be romantic interests.  I know a lot of people in my family and that I grew up with that feel completely limited in those ways however.   They feel tied to a sense of taboo that dictates how they judge themselves and others.

I am not like that.  I know I’ve heard my mom and others say “this is how other people see you”, and yet I say “too bad for them.”  My family had a complete emotional breakdown when I stopped straightening my hair.  I mean my mom, my aunt, my grandma, maybe someone else, I don’t really remember how much of a hurricane it was because it was about 10 years ago and one of my least favorite memories.  It was as if these three women were about to spontaneously burst in hard-wood & marbled reflected kitchen.  I stood there in disbelief.  I had already hid the fact that I was growing my hair out and I’d pretended I hadn’t wanted to for several years before that.

I always thought natural looked better.  My mom had natural hair until she was 18 and she feels so much better about herself now that she can afford to put chemicals on her head…whoopdedoo.   I’m also not very good at just allowing other people’s shallow views to define me.  So while my grandma tells me that a woman’s grace is her hair and I want to vomit my feminist heart out… and my mom and my aunt tell me that people will pick on me, and not take me seriously and blah, blah, blah, I just don’t care.   People may be extremely shallow and they might believe that natural hair is dirty or ugly or whatever… I’m not here to please other people’s eyes.

I’m also not hear to date who other people think I should date, or label myself and walk around trying to prove my blackness, when I know and feel a connection to my ethnic diversity, as well as the parts of myself that are unrelated to my ethnicity.   So now that I am back in the south I see that things have improved a little bit.   My mom thinks that natural hair is in style now so I’m not a complete embarrassment to her, not that I care.   Still people talk about the black and white thing far too much and there is a lot of discomfort when you blend colors on the canvas here.

My daughter doesn’t perceive much about these things.  I’ve recently become kinda annoyed with all the media images and lack of diversity, so one day she heard me talk about how I wish the stickers in her coloring book displayed children of different colors, so she spouts off on that every now and then.  Other than that on the surface, living in the south seems pretty normal.  I took my daughters to the park Friday and children of all colors, abilities, shapes and sizes were playing together.  Even children speaking different languages.

~~Still dreaming of equality and diversity


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