Sunday, January 28, 2007

'you have that white girl "aura" '

that's what a (white) coworker told me on Saturday at work. I know what she meant, but how am I supposed to take that? I honestly don't consider it offensive. Should i? I don't know. I guess I haven't analyzed it enough.

i know for a fact that she didn't mean it in an offensive way. deep down, i think i should have been offended. what struck me so weird was that she felt comfortable enough to say it. but that's not all she said.

we were talking about another black female co-worker who happens to be dark skinned. white girl didn't like some things this other black girl was doing--trying to flirt with white girl's boyfriend. so, white girl starts talking about how her boyfriend does like black girls, but he REALLY doesn't like the dark skinned ones. she smiled at me and said, "he likes them with your coloring, he used to [before they got together] be all over light skinned black girls like you". wow. us light skinned black girls must be special. for half a second i felt that way. and then i wondered why i was letting this white girl try to make me feel all superior to someone else of my own race like that?

that didn't seem right. the disappointing thing about i was that i didn't say anything to correct or scold. i just listened and took it all in. if 93% of portland was black, i wonder if i'd feel secure enough in myself to just say any old thing like that to a white person. that seems to be the way it is here in portland. i think white people just feel so comfortable with themselves. why shouldn't they-everywhere they go, there they are.

i've had conversations with white people like that before. maybe what white girl said didn't bother me because all my life i've had more white friends than black so i don't see them as the enemy so much. and most of the time when i'm with a white friend, i feel like one of them, in that i dress like them, i talk like them, i do things they do (i.e. i don't do/wear/say the stereotypical black things). and it's not in a phony way. that's just me. i'm a product of a white environment. what can i say?

but back to the comment about me having a white girl "aura". when she told me that, she started backtracking trying to explain what she meant as she thought i might be offended. she explained that 'you don't do the whole neck roll thing', and i appear to be kind of soft spoken, friendy, etc. i told her "yeah, yeah, i know what you mean, you don't have to explain". and thinking back, all the guys i have ever seriously dated were either from upper class black families and "acted white" too, OR biracial guys who also "acted white" OR white guys who were less than the stereotypical cornball white guy but not the vanilla ice type. so maybe i do give off some kind of aura or impression. i think subconsciously i've thought this without giving it a name like that.


Kevin said...

Wow. That's really sad. I guess she thinks all black people are represented by some woman in the back row at the Ricki Lake show. The saddest part is that she thought she was paying you a compliment.

"Whatever" is probably the best reaction you could have had.

You're right when you say "i think white people just feel so comfortable with themselves. why shouldn't they-everywhere they go, there they are." There's also a smugness here because people like to think of themselves as being "progressive," so that they can't imagine anything that comes out of their mouths might be offensive or just stupid.

They also tend to think in terms of "the black community" instead of individuals, as if everyone is the same, and has had the same experiences.

"You don't do the whole 'neck roll' thing." Shit.

Captured Shadow said...

Jason nailed it. I don't know what that co-worker was thinking. Black people who come from a more white environment (like our blogger) don't always have light skin. I would not even say usually but some do. Also the opposite, some light skinned blacks fit some of the "black" stereotypes. I imagine she might do the same thing, trying to contrast fresh of the boat Cambodian refugees to third generation Japanese Americans, saying that her boyfriend used to date Asian girls....

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Anonymous said...

she was paying you a compliment, but she was using it as an opportunity to put down other black women. that's a classy lady you work with there.

Anonymous said...

I don't like that some people have the audacity to say things like that. I would have told her that she's stereotyping black people and that it is not acceptable.


Anonymous said...

You liked the "compliment" because you're just as bad as she is. One the one hand, you say you don't act stereotypically black, you "act white." You are so proud of that. Do you realize that every word you right on here promotes the stereotype of blackness because you always put your behavior in opposition to those so-called ghetto-acting black folk. Is there no middle? Can a person wear baggy, hip hop clothes, talk with a black accent and still be professional, smart and intelligent? Do you have to get on here everyday and show how you think you are superior to black folks who choose not to "act white." Is being soft-spoken and nice now the anti-thesis of black culture? You have a lot of class issues, and a lot of issues with your race. I can only imagine the conversations you must have with your children about blackness, and how they will think only blackness that emulates whiteness is right. I'm really disturbed. You need a real black female friend to have a conversation with. One who manages to be professional, articulate, and very culturally black. One who can appreciate soul food and shop at New Seasons. One who loves the gossip in hole-in-the-wall beauty shops but still demands quality. One who appreciates the poetry of Lil' Wayne and Langston Hughes. Blackness is not either or. It's not ghetto or the mirror image of whiteness. I can guarantee you, no one at my job doubts that I am professional, intelligent and articulate, but they would never make comments about other black people like that to me. You set that tone. You make them think it's OK, because you are so ready to judge other black people to a white standard.

Falone said...

I grew up in white suburbia in RI, rarely had black friends, and I was the only black student in my Honors/AP classes. At the same time, I grew up in a Haitian household, so Haitian creole was the first language I learned. Perhaps because of my parents' need to speak English well, I learned to speak English well, and I taught them, from a very early age. As a result of this, I love reading, and I even considered becoming an English major. But I'm a Pharmacy major because it's a lot more lucrative, haha. Anyway, I've always gotten the comment that I was the whitest black girl... even my family call me "grimelle" like the Spanish way of "gringa" meaning white girl. I enjoy where I grew up, I would never want to grow up in poverty, or in the ghetto... my parents brought me as a baby to this country because our own country (Haiti) is going through horrible problems right now. I take it as an insult when people claim that I'm trying to be white. I'm trying to be what my parents envisioned me when we came here; I don't want it to be in vain. Perhaps this is why I make a concious decision to read more Black authors, to learn about the Black experience in America, to listen to Haitian and Black American music because I don't want people to see me this way. The only problem I have is this obsession with all non-white cultures to consider and praise lighter skin. The last person I had a relationship with was white, because he didn't have the hardship of wanting lighter skin female, like the black males on campus do. Even before that, I suffered from self-esteem issues, especially when the media blares that light and bright with long hair flowing in the wind is the ideal. But it's gotten better, I'm still trying to find what makes me... me. But yeah. Sorry about the long comment.

Anonymous said...

You didn't say anything to her?

So let me get this straight: You do not like being stereotyped as a black person and lumped in with "those" types of blacks.

Yet, when a coworker sterotypes black people to your face, you say nothing, because as she is bashing black women, she is complimenting you for not being "too black".

Wow, sister. Wow.

Listen, I grew up around all white people two in a upper middle class neighborhood.

I don't think growing up around white people is the reason you don't speak up.

I think it is because your family probably never taught you what it means to be proud of having a black heritage.

Think about it. Did your family see "white" as better?

M & M said...

I have the feeling that she is proud to be black, but she was sharing an experience that happens to many black people, i.e. being told she's articulate by non-blacks. Black women are often stereotyped as being hostile, loud, and obnoxious. Many times this stereotype is played out in real life hence it isn't entirely made up. The fact that her coworker mentioned the "neck roll" is living proof that there is some truth to the stereotype. Black women on a whole are viewed by most people as being defensive and having attitude problems. Perhaps the reason she didn't say anything is because she is aware of how black women are stereotyped and she doesn't want to further the stereotype in that white coworker's mind?

She has made comments on other posts that seem a bit elitist, but I would never believe that she wishes to not be black. There are quite a few black people who speak well, carry themselves well, and hold themselves to high standards...this is code for "acting white" to black people who come from a different environment. It is viewed as being an Oreo or a wannabe if you speak well or identify with any aspect of white American culture. Her coworker doesn't sound like the brightest person, but clearly she can make distinctions between social classes of black people as well as educational levels. You don't have to be "down" to prove your blackness to anyone, you don't have to speak with a dialect or speak Ebonics/slang, you don't have to play up or play down Afrocentric looks. In the real world and in the corporate world, it matters how you look AND how you sound.

You can be brilliant, you can have a doctorate and contribute much to society, but if you cannot speak coherently without slang or certain mannerisms you will be judged. That's how the world works. Black people are expected to fail, they're expected to speak like they're illiterate, they're expected to look and act a certain way. It is programmed into people's minds in this country, including many blacks themselves. This is the reason so many black children fear success, because they're afraid of having the "Oreo" label slapped on them and of hearing the accusations of "acting white". So while it was a backhanded compliment, in a sense the girl was onto something. Conversely, a person can "talk white" and do stereotypical "white" things but be extremely secure in their identity as a black person. Culturally, they might identify more with another race because of the environment they were brought up in. Racially, that's a different matter. I know many black women who are the stereotypical loud ghetto females always making noise and making trouble, but they're insecure black women no matter how "hood" they might be. Many of them are ashamed to be black and they resent anyone who chooses to live differently.

Anonymous said...

"Can a person wear baggy, hip hop clothes, talk with a black accent and still be professional, smart and intelligent?"

The answer is definitely no. I've lived in many states and countries and I am confortable among people from various countries, cultures, and races. I do appreciate and value differences in people and I believe each culture/country/race has their own unique contributions and beauty.

That being said, how many people have you met wearing baggy clothes speaking ebonics that are older than earlier 20's that actually have a decent position or own their own company?

I am caucasian, but if God decided to create me a black woman instead of white women, I would never speak ebonic and dress ghetto past a certain age- hopefully i would wise up as a teenager. Besides, men don't like women like this. Most normal women don't befriend women like this either. Why shoot yourself in the foot by dressing ghetto/wearing clothes that are improper for your size and speaking as though you are uneducated?

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic and I think she handled it with honestly.

Oddly enough she touches on a truth so rarely approached and that is…. We are so much more than our labels.

D said...

Well, the good news is that the girl was trying to relate to you. But she wasn't doing a very good job of it.

I think I would have said something at a couple of points in the conversation.

For the first, when she started comparing different shades of skin tone and making judgment about the relative degree of "special" because of it, I would have (tried to) smile and let her know as calmly as I could that I don't make any judgment on the basis of skin tone, and I don't condone it when certain individuals or society does so. When she started backtracking, I would have let her know I appreciated her effort to set things straight.

As for how you act, and dress, and talk, it's your choice, and in your situation I hope I would not consider how I dress, talk, and act to be a "black" thing, or a "white" thing, it's just me.

I am a quarter Norwegian, but the "culture" in my family and upbringing is a lot heavier weighted toward Norwegian than that, more like 90% of the culture that was stressed as I was growing up. Norwegian culture as was passed to me is basically polka dancing, a certain accent (see the movie Fargo), the word "uff-da", certain foods (a certain type of pudding, and a reaaallly thin flat potato pancake that's rolled up with butter and sugar called lefse, and certain corny jokes about rivalry between Swedish and Norwegian people, and jokes about smelly fish (I'm not kidding). If I tried to hang out only other Norwegian people, and accentuated my Norwegian "culture" to the point non-Norwegian people could not relate to me, then I would effectively be segregating myself.

I could do this fairly easily if I lived in the Midwest, where all of us Norwegians have heard the same jokes, and we all learned to make lefse (I'll teach you some time).

I also have to deal with being raised in Oregon, and now living on the East Coast. If I tried to stick with the country music, cowboy boots, and rodeos culture of my Eastern Oregon upbringing here, it would put a cramp in my social life. And because in my situation it is much more effective to be a cultural chameleon... if I'm going to open those doors, I might as well OPEN them... i.e. I have researched most of the world's religions and philosophies, and I have friends from every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

My point is that although I remember those elements of culture I was raised with, I find it much more effective for getting along in the world to assume the more mainstream "American" culture, at least the get up, go to work, eat, go to sleep, try to advance our career, try to spend time with our kids, and fall asleep exhausted culture. Or at least to pick and choose elements of that culture as "mine". And to be comfortable with it, and with who I am. Norwegian. And American. And a citizen of the world. A human.

So whatever the aura you choose... own it. It's all good.

Anonymous said...

From someone whom has dealt with this all my life, age and my experiences have shown there to be problems on both sides of the fence when it comes to this issue. The white person is being offensive, but I do believe they ( at least most don't) don't realize to what level and why. When I'm in this situation, I find its an opportunity to educate them in this area. Most are usually embarrassed at their own ignorance. This can be done without belittling myself as a black person, nor putting them down. I also think anything and anyone that perpetuates theses stereo-types is to blame as well. You can be proud of your race, and who you are without doing what society decides for you, and those who choose to continue negative actions and alienate those whom don't follow suit, are as much as at fault as she was for making the comments she made. Ignorance on both sides of the fence does not equal intelligence when they come together. Once I realized this, I don't let anyone talk down to me for who I am whether they are black, white, yellow, or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'd be one of the darker shades of black, but I'm softspoken and desired by many gorgeous white guys. Many times I've wondered why they just stare/gawk at me, but I guess, like most, it's the shade of black which may be their reason for withholding. Sad. My mom and most of my upbringing has been in a white society so, yes, I would be one of the unique ones of society. :)To be offended by this statement, I'd say she was deeming my color more because I guess, in general terms, the lighter you are in an race, the more you're acceptable.

Anonymous said...

wow. It seems like deep down inside your soul, you think WHITE is better. You are one of those self-hating black people. You must have been elated when your co-worker said that to you, because its obvious that you took that as a 'compliment'. I dont even have words for a mental case like that. You're really screwed up.

keep it real said...

Ouch! talking about a slap in the face...and you thought it was a compliment. So when she said that you have a white girl aura...what does that mean? you don't act "Black", that you are better than the other black girls? I don't understand that comment,but your white girl dealt out the hating card and wanted you to play that light skin against dark skin game by telling you that her dude is attractive to whites and light skinned black girls. Don't believe everything white girl tells you.

Staci K. said...

Oh what i'd give to be light skinned. Sometimes i don't even think your life could be as hard as you portray because youre light skinned. I am unfortunately one of those self hating black girls. i actually came upon your blog because i typed "i dont like being black" into the yahoo search engine. this blog really put on the icing that i'll probably never even get to try being with any other race but this one because im too dark.

Anonymous said...

Staci, that's just sad.

I look like a white woman. I'm not simply "light-skinned". I literally look like a person with almost NO African ancestry at all.

If you honestly believe that being lighter will help you in some way, you need a reality check. I have experienced nothing but pain throughout my life despite my pale skin, long hair, and European features.

I have NEVER received special benefits from looking this way. People of every color have discriminated against me. I was in an unhealthy relationship with an African-American guy who took his racial issues out on me. His whole family seemed to be racist somehow. His friends were, too.

My own family treated me badly because of my fair skin. Don't believe the hype about skin color. Learn to accept yourself because you'll never be able to change the color of your skin. I've learned to love my fair complexion despite comments from people. My self-esteem is pretty low at nearly 25 years old, but I'm working on it. You should too.

Anonymous said...

im one of those nlack-white girls. i get comments about 'wow, u dress rly white.' and 'u dont speak like a 5 yr old with a speech impediment' the one thing i have never been commented on is playin basketball and this is only because i am good at it. the whole stereotype that black ppl r all amazin at basketball bothers me because one of the pe teachers at my school came up to one of my black friends and asked her if she was goin to try out for basketball. my friend has never played basketball in her life...that was obviously a stereotype. the school i go to now definetly has more black people than my last one but its all girls so i dont have to deal with worrying about 'does that black guy i like think im too white for him?' thannk god cuz i would not be able to deal with that kind of pressure. i completely relate to u TBG and kep posting


Anonymous said...

Wow. Your coworker is quite nasty.
She implided that high-yellow skin is what's in. And you just....

Let her?

Anyway, I'm one of those 'white' black girls. I love classical, jpop, and techno music. Though no one rally cars when I say I also love Motown and R&B.

I dress punky/goth. I prefer dating white/asian guys.

I get called oreo all the time by whites that are too comforable with me. They call me the N word, then turn around and call me a wannabe white chick.

I fuc*in hate it. And I don't tolerate it. It's disrespectful and not only an attack on MY person, but an attack on blacks in general.

We have to make take stands, when people say racist sh*t. While you were busy having you ego stroked by coworker, that dark skinned girl could have been thinking about just how much she hates being dark.

Maybe she knew she wouldn't have a chance with 'white guy'.

Gosh, I'm rammbling,.

I think you should stepped back and rethink how you precieve your race. Your mind paints us WAY worse then we are.