A Simple Dinner Conversation

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?

 

Danielle

 

actor.director.playwright

 

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12 Comments

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  1. I have to admit that I did not know what it meant to be black until I came to Temple U. I knew that I was black, but I grew up in NYC. I went to a performing arts school high school and everyone loved everyone. Now that is not to say that NYC wasn’t racist, but its easier to hide racism in a city that is always moving…. In Philly however, North Philly the “Ghetto” I feel like I am constantly reminded of my blackness, be it in the parts that I get in and outside of school, or the looks I get from white students when we are ALL trying to get home safety after a night of partying…I remember a bi-racial friend of mine, her mom is white and her dad is black, however she looks “white”. You can’t look at her and tell that she is half black. Anyway she was talking to a white girl about sororities and my friend said that she was thinking about pledging Delta or AKA and the white girl said “EEEWWW Why do you wanna join a black sorority…”- My friend was taken a back and said nothing… for fear of embarrassing the girl. If you ask me I would have cussed her out… But being here at Temple, particularly in my department I have experienced the most racism i have ever experienced in my life.. and this is after I have went to school for a year in the state of Maine and being the only black person in my department…smh I just can’t with the ignorant people these days

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  2. 1 I’m always curious/cautious of people who are overly animated about a particular subject – especially if they’re all talk and no action (not saying that this is the case with this guy, but still). People like this don’t inspire me or make me want to look deeper into what they’re so passionate about. People like this just make me wonder about them. It’s not about the topic anymore – it makes me wonder what about their lives, their personalities, their lack of something is making them respond in such an overbearing way? There’s usually something there that goes beyond the topic, something concerning the essence of that person.
    2 I grew up in an all-Black environment from 4th grade through high school. Public school and everything you’ve ever heard about it. At my high school particularly, which was a visual and performing arts school, vocational school: nursing, cosmetology, auto body work, print making, and plain old public high school, there was a myriad of Black people – students and teachers. There were NO white people and a maybe 5% slither of Hispanic people – and still I’d be polka dots, the girl to my right would be stripes, and the boy to my left would be zig-zags. I feel like I went to an extremely diverse school even thought it was ethnically pretty homogenous. The social landscape of America is changing. Racism is still alive, but this culture and society is changing. Because of that, I think that the definition of “the Black experience” is widening.
    3 Race is a social construction anyway. What does it mean to be “Black”? Is it literally my skin color? Is it a culture? A music? A heritage? During my experience in college, exposing me to all kinds of people and ethnicities, I began to postulate: my being born into a certain skin, to a certain set of parents, who live in a certain neighborhood was completely out of my control. “I” could’ve easily been born into white skin, to a different set of parents, in another country – in another lifetime even! Black, White, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern or otherwise, I wouldn’t want to persecute or judge another culture or people based on my distinction from them that I had no control over in the first place. I don’t own being Black. I didn’t work for it or create it. My ancestors paid for it, but wrongfully so. A progressive culture isn’t merely pointing out injustices that were previously seen as the civil norm; it’s also about forgiving, sharing the way in which our ancestors were forbidden to share, and finally building a culture on solid ground instead of the slippery slopes of slavery and Jim Crow. Like I said, racism is still alive – Black to White and White to Black and everybody toward everyone in between – and there are structures set up in this capitalist society that do “keep the Black man down” …and the poor man, and the immigrant man, and the non-man (women), and the foster child, and the inner city dwellers, and war veterans, and the entire culture, who’s taught to worship things and feel bad when they don’t have them. We’re all in this pot, and by now, we’re all American.

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  3. Very well written, by the way!

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  4. I feel very under qualified to be commenting, since I’m speaking from the ethnicity that seems to contain the most racist people. Since I have such a hard time wrapping my mind around racism, I literally just can’t grasp it, I have a hard time expressing my thoughts about it. I know that racism will never be a thing of the past. Discrimination/racial profiling is fed and encouraged by so many outlets, the biggest one being the media. I think the best way we can fight and discourage it is in our individual lives. Reaching out and being strong enough and vulnerable enough to ask questions about others culture and experiences. Standing up against racial jokes, comments.

    Those may sound like incredibly naïve suggestions, but it’s taken me far with the people around me and even with racist people that I know. It’s amazing how powerful simple questions can be. It’s very humbling to listen to the stories people have with their experience with racism. All of us have them. And it’s made very sensitive to things said or suggested about other ethnicities. So, that’s my simple suggestion to breaking barriers. Questions and an open mind.

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  5. You’re welcome :). IMO the USA is long overdue for a reckoning of sorts regarding race relations. I wonder how race relations in this country may have improved if we’d had a truth and reconciliation commission along the lines of what was implemented in South Africa when apartheid was dismantled?

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  6. bodyimageprojectblog June 6, 2013 — 8:18 pm

    Thank you for your comments and America is not “post racial” even though we have a black president. What steps can we make to cut the curses of racism?

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  7. *should be ‘now post-racial*

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  8. “Racism still exists in this country. Period. How can we as a nation pro-actively fight towards breaking the system’s cycles.”

    Americans could begin by ACKNOWLEDGING IT. The election of Barack Obama has unfortunately led to the mass delusion that the United States is not “post-racial”. 😦

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  9. “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.””

    WHOA! He was VERY out of line for that! Such language is inflammatory and not conducive to promoting positive race relations!

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  10. *Correction: I did not mean to refer to Guyana as a Caribbean island above, I meant to include it in the region of the West Indies.

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  11. “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.”

    What an insightful post, thank you for sharing! The discussion that you’ve sparked is one we truly need to have. I really appreciate you stating how color and race are view in the Caribbean. As an African-American, I’ve found that Caribbean-American individuals have a very difficult time relating to and understanding the mentality of African-Americans where this topic is concerned. I don’t feel that’s necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. I do feel, however, that we should all remember the historical and cultural differences between the United States and the Caribbean.

    African-Americans(and I use that term loosely for many who have been classified as such are actually multi-generational multiracial individuals) make up a very small portion of the population of the US. In the Caribbean islands, on the other hand, the descendants of enslaved Africans dwarfed the number of other groups-with the exceptions of Trinidad and Guyana. The demographic difference alone creates a huge gulf. When you add in the White Supremacy that has been ingrained in the United States from its inception-which has yet to be fully dismantled-it’s almost a given that African-Americans would have the issues they do. And as much as I admire and respect the culture of my Caribbean cousins, I do get very frustrated when Caribbean-Americans trivialize and mock the experiences of African-Americans.It’s one thing to say you can’t relate to AAs, but it is another to mock and scorn them for how they’ve reacted to how they’ve been treated. Of course this is not what you’ve done in this post, but the topic brought to mind heated discussions I’ve had with Caribbean-Americans on this issue.

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  12. thexenophilediaries June 6, 2013 — 4:41 pm

    This was a well written post. Although i’m black, or African American if you want to be politically correct, I always felt stuck between “the white and black worlds,” due to the opportunities I’ve received by the grace of God. Race is a social construct and thus I am often put into a box, even though I don’t fit…

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