So I know today’s blog was supposed to be about Patience, but I was just involved in a heated conversation that sparked the interest of this post.
I was at dinner/drinks with a group of sophisticated, intelligent, beautiful, “Spike Lee” movie inspired African American theatre artists. Three women and Two Men were present. The scene: a dark candlelit “hipster-esque” restaurant, with a top shelf bar and multiple flat screen televisions. The conversation between the group took place in a private corner of the room. The wine and liquor was flowing in complete harmony with the conversations that were taking place. I could only have one glass of red wine, because I knew I had to wake up early, but I was honored to be around intelligent people that looked like me.
Race is a part body image. The color of one’s skin can change the game. When you are born, you are born into a family that either looks one way or another. The conversation tonight came to a screeching halt when one of the theatre artists began to talk about his extremely strong opinions about race. He spoke about: white privilege, institutionalized racism; mental slavery; the talented tenth; Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner and all of the powerful men and women that this country was built on top of. He spoke about middle passage/slavery and how as a “people” there are 90% of us that still contain ruminants of slave mentality. Now- I am just an actress. I am not an African American Studies Professor. I have no degrees in this subject matter. But, what I do know, is that people- no matter what color they are- can make a decision to change their circumstance. What cracked me up the most is that a Caucasian gentleman that was sitting behind our table of black excellence bought the table a round of drinks, because he was happy to find people with opinions and intelligence about race. But, the African American gentlemen said to us, that the only reason this Caucasian gentleman was buying us drinks is because this white gentleman was experiencing “white guilt.” He even went as far as calling this gentleman a “white devil.”
Now- as most of you know- my fiancé is white. He is from England and we met whilst studying our Master’s. We have definitely had LOTS of Race speeches and talks. For instance when I decided to go natural from having permed hair. He just could not understand what the heck I was talking about. So after 10,000 youtube videos later he finally understood why my hair needed freedom. I will be doing a post on hair soon- don’t you worry : ) We are from extremely different cultural and racial backgrounds. His mother is from Northern Ireland, his father is British, and my brother in law to be is from India. I am living in a real life episode of Modern Family. When I have children they will be bi-racial. To all of my friends, or colleagues, or other bloggers that may be bi-racial what was it like growing up in America?
I have a lot of friends that are bi-racial that either felt as though they were never apart of any race, or they identified more with one race than the other. Race didn’t consume me when I was overseas. It almost makes me want to move back to England, because how can my children- when I have them- be accepted in a world that is so black and white. They will be both! My children will not only be black and white, but Jamaican, Irish, and English. They will have grandmothers that will make them Jerk Chicken and Soda Bread! They will watch Oliver, Roots and Father Ted.
It worries me, because my fiancé and I will be moving to America; where Race is such a goliath and now I suddenly have to think about: what areas of Chicago are racist; and what areas of this town are “appropriate” for interracial couples. I just didn’t think about these things when I was overseas, because interracial couples were everywhere!! Love is love. I did not plan on going overseas to meet a gorgeous redheaded Englishman. Love just happens it is not scheduled or pre-planned. Love comes in all colors.
However, what I will never be able to tolerate is racial slurs towards anyone white or black. The term “ white devil” is extremely overkill and inappropriate. America and Race go hand and hand like peanut butter and jelly- they just don’t taste as good.
When asked my opinion about everything this evening, I couldn’t find anything to say in fear I would be bulldozed by this passionate gentleman that sat beside me. The reasons why I didn’t want to stir the pot are because Caribbean people and Caribbean-Americans have a different experience living in America. Yes, if you trace us all- we all go back to Africa, or France in some cases. But, if you come from a home where you mother or grandmother prepares plantains, roti, or callalloo; your experience is very different then a home that prepares ham hocks, chittlins’, greens and sweet potato pie.
When I was at school I was made fun of by African American children, because of the food I would eat. I was never considered “black” enough, because I didn’t rock the latest fashions. I wore clothes from Value City and Burlington Coat Factory on a good day! If we were feeling EXTRA FANCY, we would shop at Sears. My grandma would buy most of my clothes from a catalogue. I have never in my life owned a pair of Jordans. I did get judged for it.
The funniest thing was that even though my skin was brown I still found many degrees of racism inside the African American race. Light skin people were viewed as more beautiful than brown or dark skinned people. In Jamaica, the discrimination was based on class. I grew up in a house full of Jamaicans and to be brown or a “brownin’” – as my family would say- was a gorgeous thing. The thing I found extremely interesting is that most of my friends were of a diverse mix throughout my elementary and high school years. I never had one race of friends. My friends ranged from being: white; Indian; Filipino; Bi-racial; Dominican etc.
I always felt like I was split down the middle. I wanted to impress my African American friends, as well as stay true to my Caribbean roots. My mother also kept me in private school. Between scholarships, financial aid and my mom’s hustle- she made it work. Being in Private School proved problematic to some of my black friends who were in public schools- because they always said: I didn’t know what it meant to struggle. I always found this statement extremely hilarious, because if they even knew what my mom and my grandmother went through to raise me they would have reconsidered their statements. When my father first joined the navy he was stunned, because he had come from an all black country- Jamaica- and moved to Boston. He faced all kinds of racial brutality when he entered this country, based only because of his skin color. It is such a juxtaposition to be in one country where your color is deemed as beautiful and then to be in another country and be treated as dirt.
You can never measure anyone else’s pain or struggle. My grandmother is an educated woman that had to immigrate to this country to become a live in nurse so that she could provide opportunities for her children. My mother when she first immigrated to this country worked as a nanny and at Woolworth’s in Brooklyn. She lived in a one-bedroom apartment, which had one mattress, with 12 of her brothers and sisters. They all came to America looking for opportunities. With hard work and grace from God my mother built herself up and became an attorney and put herself through law school. The journey to that was not easy. There were many times that I can remember bringing a blanket/coloring book to her Bankruptcy law classes. She dealt with an extraordinary amount of racism in law school. It was the 90s in Boston. She is an example of not allowing the odds to get her down and moving forward.
When I was younger I used to ask my mom what color God was. She always said God is the color of water. He is the reflection of you and you can only find him if you look deep within yourself. Racism still exists in this country. Period. How can we as a nation pro-actively fight towards breaking the system’s cycles.
How does Race affect your body image? When you look in the mirror, what do you see? What physical features do you have that may be different from everyone else’s? How has race changed your everyday life perspective? How can we cut the curses of institutionalized racism?
I would love to hear your thoughts?
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