This is a guest post for swpd by Rain, who writes of herself, “I am a heterosexual college student. I'm West Indian, and I have Black and White blood running through my veins. I'm often mistaken for being Hispanic, Black and Asian, or mixed Black and White, which is what I am. I don't identify myself as anything other than me. . . until people remind me.
Matters of race, racism and interracial relationships have always been interesting to me, and even though I'm a newb reader of swpd (about 3 months), I've learned a lot in picking up on racism and battling it. I also learned that sometimes I shouldn't give people the benefit of the doubt. That said, let me talk about what happened a few days ago.
For my screenwriting class, all of us were to create a script written for stage (our teacher’s way of making us well-rounded). Considering that I like to go for shock value and I like to make people think, I created a story that had the air of the classic film Imitation of Life (I apologize but I must be vague for the sake of my story [copyright pending]). It involves a bi-racial girl, married to and living with a white man. And here is where the ignorance starts.
We were workshopping our scripts and that day it was my turn; during the weekend the entire class got a copy of my script to read, comment on and discuss during class. My story dealt with the culture of "passing" during the early-mid 20th century. I can understand that there are certain things people might not know about other races, but some of the things that my white classmates said were just downright ignorant and offensive!
When we were discussing how my protagonist permed her hair straight, one of the most abrasive and aggressive human beings I have ever had the displeasure of meeting in my entire life (who also happens to be white) said, "Permed? No. . . perming makes your hair curly."
I just wanted to pull a Zack Morris and call for the enter scene to "pause" while saying to the audience, "Did this White girl just tell me, a Black person, about what a perm can do to a Black person’s hair?"
Even my teacher, who is also white (one of the more "enlightened" ones I might add), was like, "Actually, ________, I think you're wrong," in that way he does when someone says something really stupid. It was even more painful, because when your work is being evaluated by your peers, you are not allowed to speak, but I jumped right on it!
"No, no. . . perming can make your hair straight. Black people aren't born with straight hair," I said, in the most calm and non-angry-Black-woman way that I could muster. Is it just me who feels that this should have been common knowledge? Hasn't she ever looked at a Black person’s hair and wondered, "Hm. How did they get it straight?" I can't possibly imagine that she thought Black people were BORN with straight hair!
I apologize if I have difficulty expressing what I feel exactly, but I can't find the right word. Is it ignorance? Plain stupidity? Neglect?
I feel like, to not know something like that. . . you have to be a bit neglectful. Ignoring. Look at it this way: if a black person were to say, "White people have blue eyes? What? You mean there are people actually born with blue eyes? You mean they aren't wearing contacts?!" If a Black person said that, they would be laughed out of any room, for their stupidity.
Another point of interest is that I go to school in Nassau County, in New York, which also happens to be, in statistical terms, one of the most segregated communities in the entire country.
After I calmly offered my correction, the girl who can never shut up and accept defeat then says, "Oh. . . well, that's why my mother is a hairdresser in [nsert predominantly rich White area in Nassau].” So that should be an excuse? As the daughter of a hairdresser, you have EVEN LESS of an excuse to not know something like that. AND she is 23. Considering how large the Black haircare market is, and how ingrained in Black culture having good-looking hair is, why wouldn't anyone know something like this? It's in the movies, it's in pop music! You'd have to do a lot of ignoring not to notice.
And if that wasn't bad enough, a close friend of hers in the class, a white (Italian American) male in his early 30s, then chimes in, "But. . . no matter what a Black girl does. . . there is nothing she can do to make her hair look like a White girl’s. No way."
I wish I could have captured my teacher’s face on camera: "______, I think you should just stop . . . now . . ." He was trying to save the guy some embarrassment, and I had to keep it together from giving him a tongue-lashing right there.
This guy then added about my story, "How could her husband not know she was Black?"
To which my Professor responded, "Are you not familiar with 'passing'?" to which this man, who always claims to not know anything, says "no."
Have they been walking around all these years with their eyes closed and corks in their ears? Genetics is a very fickle thing. Have they not heard of the families that have one white parent and one black parent, the family has twins, and one is blonde haired with blue eyes while the other is brown-skinned with black hair? Both of my parents can pass for white, but I came out darker than both of them!
I held myself together, in part because I wasn’t supposed to speak as they discussed my story. As the class finished they could then ask me questions, and then my teacher gave me the floor to say anything I wanted. I understood that this was not the time or place to drop some knowledge on that guy and girl about how offensive and ignorant the things they said were, so I just addressed the guy.
A quick note about myself, I have what you might call the "typical" hair of someone who is bi-racial. (Here is a link to an example). So I said to this guy in my calmest, non-angry-Black-woman voice, with all eyes on me, "_______, . . . I just wanted to let you know something. I don't perm my hair. But when I go to the hairdresser, my hair looks and feels like White hair, like that of any person you would see in this room."
And there was a bit of an awkward silence, in which this man threw his hands in the air and leaned back in his seat in the most defensive way. In the most, "I'm white! How should I know?!" way.
When my Professor couldn't take it anymore, he said, "See, _______, you learn something new every day!" to lighten the mood. We moved on, but . . . then I felt bad for letting him know.
I just want to know, swpd readers, am I crazy? Does their behavior seem neglectful to you? Should I not be so sensitive?
And have you encountered white people who use their being white like that, as a kind of excuse for being ignorant about racial issues?