Thursday, November 24, 2011

rain

so, it happened again. a white girl at work told me convincingly that i wasn't really "black". this is a fairly good friend/co-worker, so naturally i wasn't quick to be offended. that's the thing. white people who say things like this to their black friends never mean to be offensive. they just don't know any better. seriously. they usually mean it in the most naively, positive way.

before i break down the conversation we had, let me start out with some background: my hair is in need of a relaxer. i think it's been a good while since my last touch up. i have quite a bit of grow out. i literally have been so swamped with work and my kids' school activities that i've had no time to make an appointment. i'm getting it done soon, but i've felt kind of self-conscious about my hair in the last few weeks. when i have grow out, i can't really style it exactly the way i like, because it just doesn't lay down in places where i want it to lay down. but i've worked with it, putting it up in sophisticated up-dos and things like that. but it doesn't look like 100% to me.

so anyway, my co-worker asks me to walk with her down the street to get a coffee. and it's raining hard. i agree and get my umbrella. as we go out into the rain i started to open the umbrella. she then says:

her: (jokingly)oh yes girl, you better open that umbrella, you can't let your hair get wet! i know, because my best friend growing up was black and she couldn't get her hair wet....
(i hate this misconception, by the way...)

me: well uh actually....i CAN get my hair wet, and at this point i'm in need of a straightening so the rain can't do much to hurt it anyway....

her: but your hair is great! i mean, your hair isn't even like real black hair! you have awesome black hair. it's really not like black hair!
(i must admit it did make me feel less self conscious about my grow-out not looking as bad as i thought it did, but on the other hand....what does 'real black hair' look like? an afro?)

me: huh..?

her: i mean, you're like, not even really black! (what does that even mean?)

i could have corrected her and got all afro-centric on her but i just didn't feel like it. and who cares? i won't change the world. i know her, she meant no harm, she's just ignorant, the way a lot of white people are. it's true. i mean, sure there are always going to be the hateful white people who DO mean to be rude and ignorant but some white people just are truly ignorant about things like black hair, levels of blackness (like is a light skinned black person REALLY a black person????) and so on.

although now that i write this i'm thinking maybe i should have said more to break the ignorance-about-black-hair- chain.

13 comments:

Joyann said...

I know at this point you are used to hearing ignorant comments, like the comments your coworker made, but at the same time, I feel like white people should be corrected when they make an ignorant comment. For various reasons, a lot of white people tend to be very clueless when it comes to black people, and these particular white people do need to be told that they can't just go around making sweeping generalizations and comments. They especially need to be corrected, such as in your coworkers case, if they have had a black friend or two, and because of that, they feel like they are experts on all things black, which they most definitely are not. They have a tendency to think of blacks and other minority groups as monoliths.

I don't even know why your coworker would feel so free to just make a comment like that regarding your hair, anyway. From your description, it was "raining hard" so the reasonable thing to do would be to bring an umbrella, so as to not get your clothing and hair soaking wet. Did she have an umbrella? Or did she just go out into the rain without one?

White people as a collective have a tendency to think that everything they do and don't do is the norm, while they view other people as always having some bigger reason for doing or not doing things. It's a matter of privilege for them, and a lot of them aren't aware of that privilege and how it influences how they think and act and the assumptions they make about other people.

tbg said...

Well said, Joyann.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with your sentiments TBG, it is annoying to have that assumption laid at your feet often.

I've heard from many white people that I'm not really black. I ask them what is a black person like and they never have an answer. Furthermore, sometimes you don't feel like teaching a lesson and you shouldn't have to teach one either.

Your co-worker's comments do carry the tinge of ignorance. Perhaps when and if she meets other black people (besides the ones she sees on tv) she will learn we are all very different.

Anonymous said...

Idk tbg, maybe you should've corrected her. I can understand how you don't feel like giving a lesson or reason every time you encounter someone who makes ignorant comments. I myself have gotten some ignorant ass comments about my hair, and its mostly by other black people! See I am natural and on some days there's no question about what's in me because my hair would be in a very obvious afro. But other times my hair would be in some form of curly state. And then all of a suddn I'm not so blak anymore! I must have some indian in me because of my hair, but not white because I'm too dark for that -_- like wtf?? Anyway if you had corrected her on that not only we she have felt a little silly for her comment but I bet she would've started thinking twice before she tries to generalize you agai

Metch said...

this situation is always tricky. nobody feels like teaching all the time. sometimes you just want to get coffee... but it's always important to remember that everyone is not a fully functioning adult. the next time your white friend says that or something like that to another Black person she may encounter a fist in the face. to prevent this we always correct the gross generalizations. it is a burden when you just want coffee but where would i be if someone somewhere didn't carry a little bit of "the burden" at some point in time? i won't even attempt to answer my own question.


just my opinion. thanks for sharing your story, honest thoughts and feelings.

v said...

People can say some really ignorant things. Your "colleague" doesn't think very much, so she opens her mouth-insert foot. No need to be short with her, just tell her point blank: Black hair is just like white hair--it's all different from person to person.

Direct her to read about it online or in a library. It's interesting, every black person on this planet knows all about white people because the media has it in your face 24/7. But for white people to not educate themselves about black people (particularly white americans educating themselves about black americans) is just pathetic. White privilege is such a joke....and to think, it will coming to end as the country continues to get browner and browner.

Yolandaas said...

Wow that would really really piss me off lol!

Yolandaas said...

And Im following, I really enjoyed reading this post. I usually dont read long posts (not good), but this was really interesting.. Keep it up x

Unknown said...

Ok I'm going to put this out there and risk upsetting everyone but I want to thank you for writing this blog. I am a white woman with many black friends. I grew up in a family who claimed not to be racist but they were and a lot of what you say helps me to realize that I may have offended my friends. I have one friend in particular that EVERYONE I know calls the whitest black girl ever...and it's nothing but a joke, however even though she laughs about it now I have to appologize because because I love her and would never hurt her and I'm afraid I did. I am always asking questions when I don't know or don't understand some cultural difference because I love my friends and I don't care what they look like but I want to know their issues and truely understand what it means to be them no matter what color or religion or political party they are and I believe that a lot of people today try to act like theres no difference in people of all races so we should just pretend, but there are differences and if we can communicate with each other about them (like your doing here) maybe there's hope that someday this world can overcome racism. I think every human is afraid of the unknown and our refusal to admit we're all different and our refusal to get to know each other holds the whole world hostage in a big circle of hate.

grouchyasswoman said...

TBG, your coworker already has internalized negativity about black people and her previous black friends sealed a lot of that stuff in. It's sad to say that sometimes other black people get so caught up in being validated by that white friend, they purvey stereotypes.

Anyway, had you corrected her, she would have gotten offended and labeled you as some type of afrocentric or something. Why, because she was given a pass by the "dumdums" in her life previously.

D.Flowers said...

I do agree with the other commenters. I understand your friend made an unintentionally racist comment, but I think we, as black women, can help eliminate that with educating them-or else we are enabling the racism.

Not all white people are that ignorant, by the way. It's not a white thing. It's an ignorant thing.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 45 yr old black man. I've been in PDX for a year. I came across your blog just by typing " Black Women in Portland". I will admit that I was initially taken aback when I read that your married to a white man. Yes, I've come to the conclusion that there are plenty of black women that date white men in PDX , simply based on the ratio. What I found most interesting and heartwarming is that you haven't given up any of yourself as a black woman though you've entered a interracial union. Most of the black women that I've come across that are in interracial relationships want nothing to do with their blackness. I want to genuinely thank you for unknowingly reassuring me that every black woman in PDX isn't set on assimilation. Peace!

Anonymous said...

Ignorance is everywhere and abounds in all races. The only way to get past it is love, compassion and understanding. We have tried hatred, brutality and stereotyping and it hasn't worked.