Tuesday, July 29, 2008

white quotation of the week (damali ayo)

White: adj. Descendents of European and some semitic peoples. Confusing due to the word’s association with all things good. Common dictionary definitions include, “the color of pure snow,” “angelic,” “clean,” and “without malice.” Despite these positive associations, when applied to a person, the term often raises discomfort among people belonging to this racial category. Many prefer to reject this label in favor of a less controversial ethnicity. The kind of response often heard from a person identified as white is, “I’m not white. I’m Irish.” . . .

White Noise:
Common Questions that You’ll Have to Answer

“White noise” is the term for sounds that are such a regular part of your environment that they blend into a dependable background hum. White noise is a subtle sound track for your daily life. It’s like living next to a freeway. At first, the sound of the cars may seem so loud you can barely hear yourself think. But after a while the drone becomes familiar, a standard part of your daily routine. In fact, some days you can’t imagine living without it. Just kidding.

You may have heard these statements so often that you’ve begun to tune them out. It’s time to splash some cold water on your face and listen again to what’s being said around you. . . .

• “Do black people get tan? What I mean is, does your skin get darker? And then do you call that ‘tan’ or ‘darker’? You get blacker, right? Or do you get lighter? Do you get lighter in the sun?”

• “You speak English very well. You’re so articulate. You can talk without even sounding black. But you could sound black if you wanted to, right? Do it now. Say something and sound really black.”

• “I used to try to make friends with black people, but black people just don’t want to be friends with white people. I try to talk to them and they look at me like I’m crazy. What am I doing wrong?”

• “I thought it would be really fascinating to meet you since you’re from the Caribbean. Oh, you’re not from the Caribbean? Well, you could be. Are you sure you’re not?”

• “I’ve met a few black people in my life. They were interesting, always wore the most colorful clothes. I don’t remember their names. I liked to look at them. But I didn’t make friends with any of them. We didn’t have anything in common.”

• “How come black people don’t come to our group? I invite them. I have food I think they will like, but they don’t come. Week after week we wait, and no people of color come. They just aren’t interested in our group. I guess we’re going to stay an all-white group. I don’t know how to change that. It’s not our fault. We want to talk about racism, but how can we do that without people of color there?’

• “Why do you call yourselves black? I mean you’re not really black, you’re more of a brown color. Though I did see this man once who was so black. He was actually black, like the color, like my shoes. Actually black. He was beautiful. I thought so.”

• “You have such an interesting name. Are you named after [insert name of geographical landmark] or [insert name of ethnic food] or maybe [insert rhyming name of impoverished country]? I’ve never met anyone with your name. Did you make it up yourself?”

• “Why are you always talking about racism? Can’t you just relax? I tell people not to talk about race around black people ‘cause you’ll get really angry and call them racist.”

• “I really don’t have very much experience with people of color. I don’t know what to say or do. I’m from an all-white town, remember? Don’t fault me for my circumstances. If I’m surrounded by white people, I’m going to know mostly white people and know about white people. What am I supposed to do? Yes, all of my friends are white, but I don’t know any other people. Am I supposed to seek out black people? You think they’re going to talk to me?”

• “My grandparents are the most racist people you’d ever meet. I sit at dinner sometimes and they say the most racist things. I can’t believe it. There’s nothing I can do about it. Let me tell you some of the things they say. They are so racist.”

• “Last year I read this book, I don’t remember the name, but a black person wrote it. You know the one they made into a movie? It was great. You’d like it. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever read. You’d probably understand it more than I would. It was really good. The main character was black and he killed a woman and he was running from the police. And I don’t want to spoil the ending or anything ‘cause you really should read it, but he gets killed. In the end. In prison. He was guilty. It was really good. Really realistic. A black person wrote it, so it was accurate. I think it was based on a true story. I bet it was true. You’d like it. You should read it. I’ll lend it to you.”

• “Where I went to school there was a lot of racism and the black kids were always protesting. I don’t really know much about it. I heard once that the campus police beat this kid up because he was black. But he must have done something wrong. Anyway, I didn’t really get involved with it. I had to concentrate on important things, like my schoolwork.”

• “All the black people I’ve met are so angry, it makes it hard to be friends with them. But you are easy to talk to. You don’t get mad every time I say something.”

• “You come from a big family. And you grew up in the ghetto, I mean, inner city. Right? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Did you have to share a bedroom with all of them? Do you know your father? And you were really poor and on welfare. Or did you have money? Then you aren’t really black. Like, you are black, but you are kind of white too. You kind of act white. I bet you can be black or white depending on who you’re talking to.”

• “Were your great-grandparents slaves? I just found out that my great-great-grandparents were slave masters. They owned slaves. Of course I don’t think that’s good or anything. I’m glad that it’s all in the past now. I can’t be held responsible for something my ancestors did hundreds of years ago. It was a really long time ago. Everything is different now. People are equal. I can’t keep paying for things my ancestors did that I don’t even believe in. What am I supposed to do, pay a special tax? A white tax?”

• “People think that you, I mean black people, are uneducated. But you’re different. I mean, I don’t think of you that way. A lot of people I know think that way. You’re easy to talk to. Most black people aren’t as easy to talk to as you are. I can say whatever I want around you and I know you’re not going to call me a racist or something. Right? Because I’m not. I’m not a racist. You know that, right?”

• ‘I don’t even see race. When I look at someone I don’t see their race at all. I’m really beyond all of that.”

• “I don’t think of you as black.”

damali ayo,
How to Rent a Negro (2005)

damali ayo's award-winning work has been shown at galleries across the world. She has spoken to Colleges, High Schools, Non-profits and communities in 20 U.S. states and Canada about race, diversity, art and eco-living. damali and her work have been featured in over 100 publications world-wide including Harpers, the Village Voice, Salon.com, the Washington Post, Seattle Times, Chicago Tribune, and CSPAN2's "Book TV." In 2008 damali folded her work fighting racism into a broader vision for holistic change and healing in her creation of CROW Clothing, a new kind of clothing company that uses sustainable fibers, supports social change and helps to inspire its customer base through educational tools and resources.


  1. We want to talk about racism, but how can we do that without people of color there?’


  2. I've have had every comment listed said to me. I get angry as I read it, because as a kid I did nothing to the folks that said these things.

  3. I would like to say that in addition to white people saying this, I've received a lot of these comments from people of other races/ethnicities too (especially my Panamanian roommate). "I don't see color" and "I don't see you as black" are possibly the two dumbest comments that people make, because of the absurdity of them, but people honestly believe what they say is true :/

  4. I have had so many of those things said to me, particularly the part about being from the Caribbean and talking white. Yet people wonder why blacks get upset.

  5. This "artist" (and I use that term loosely, I think her work is gash) came to my high-school a few years back, and gave an idiotic, hate-filled speech/whinge fest, and then told every non-black person to give all the money they had in their pockets to the closest black person.

    Despite the fact that I'm Central Asian (and we've been sh@t on by a tremendous number of ethnicities in the past 2000 years, and so I'm sure I could rouse some semblance of feelings of unjustness), I felt quite bad for my "white" friends, because as far as a symbolic gesture, this was crass and simplistic.

    Racism is an evil, disgusting mindset that sadly still exists, and I feel for every child whose mind is poisoned by racism through older people around (thus continuing the existence of the mindset), but Damali Ayo's approach to fighting racism with racism is, at the very least, counterproductive. At worst, it is stupid.

    I know this has little specific relevance to the blog post, but I wanted to share my feelings about her.
    Instead of actually addressing the issue of racism (and nationalism) in the US, she wasted away 2 hours antagonizing and insulting numerous people of various backgrounds, essentially labeling us all KKK members. Of course (this is Virginia, where my school is), there were people who couldn't stand others of different ethnic backgrounds, but all this speech did -instead of, for example, allowing them to think and (maybe) realize how thick as sh@t they are, she made them even angrier (though it was funny to see.hear them seethe).

    As for the quotes here, I now remember that she did use them in her presentation. Gave me a chuckle, they did.

    Oh, and did I mention that I think she's a rubbish artist?


    PS, oh...I'm not racist, I've got, erm, like "black friends" and all. And I'm not white, I swear :)

  6. I get angry as I read it, because as a kid I did nothing to the folks that said these things.

    Ahh, yes, always a good idea to kick 10 shades of the proverbial out of someone who insults you, isn't it?

    Does wonders for inter-personal and inter-racial relations. Lovely mindset, there.

  7. answer for anyone who says I don't see you as black:

    I didn't see you as stupid until you said that.

  8. in English, when you say I did nothing to the folks that said these things., one assumes you're not talking about drawing a smiley face on them with a marker.

  9. Sidditty could have just meant standing up for ones self by letting the offender know verbally what was said was inappropriate. It doesn't mean that Sidditty was speaking of violence. I know looking back over my past I wished I would have said something that was said to me that was inappropriate (sexist, racist) instead of just remaining silent.-Newbie

  10. Fair play, but her word choice did not fit that.

  11. I have never heard any white person say these things. Ever.

    Maybe I'm not from the South.


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