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Between Two Small Worlds

Today there was a great post on Racialicious about Blacks & Latinos, specifically, Afro-Latinos. Explored in the post (and ensuing discussion) were issues of self-identification, cultural pride, what “recognized” Hispanics/Latinos think of Afro-Latinos, etc.

I love these types of discussions because they remind us that race and identity aren’t clearly defined, especially when you are a subset of two minorities. As a black person who speaks fluent Spanish, I can identify with this and detailed a few of my experiences in my comments. Speaking Spanish (and my affinity for the language & its cultures) means that I have given myself a global view of my experiences as an African American, and for that I often feel like an anomaly. I live in Texas, which doesn’t help — people here, white or black, still call Mexicans “Spanish”.

Strangely enough, the only time I’ve ever felt comfortable in this cultural divide is when I traveled to Puerto Rico late last year. Being a Spanish speaker and a black person was no longer an anomaly (and neither was being a full-figured woman) and I believe it was the first time I ever felt completely accepted and included. It was a great feeling, and one of the main reasons I want to go back.

A Racialicious reader asked me about my experiences in Puerto Rico, and my answer to her got so long I decided to make a post out of it. Thanks for your question, Xey!

I’m also an African-American Spanish-speaker (studied Anthro and Foreign Languages), and coincidentally, I’m planning a trip to PR with one of my A-A female friends who also speaks Spanish. Small world. Got any pointers, tips for travelling in PR?

Hey, congrats on your upcoming trip!

Hmm, tips for traveling… well if you are speaking in terms of general travel advice (where to stay, etc.) then I don’t have a whole lot to offer; I stayed in San Juan the entire week I was there, but plan to visit the whole island the next time I go.

Socially, I noticed that I was treated more like a “local” the more relaxed I was. I spoke Spanish very freely (instead of the usual “I hope I’m not making a mistake” mode I’m often in) and got more comfortable with myself. It happened very organically, and my favorite moment was when a white tourist came up to me, speaking his very bad Spanish. I was very excited about that, as I haven’t ever traveled anywhere I was not seen as an “other.” In PR, I found it very liberating to be in a place where the standard of beauty included me (I say this as a woman who is also full-figured; this may not be an issue for you or your friend).

Also, I was in San Juan with my white fiancé. I wasn’t in a tourist area, but was staying in a rented apartment in a residential area that seemed quite upscale to me. The general perception was that I was a boriqua who had brought her boyfriend to the island. However, I was there for a full day before his plane arrived, and I did notice that I was treated differently as a single black woman than as a black woman with a white guy, although I was assumed to be a “native” in both cases. I’m not sure if this is because of the racial/color issues inherent in PR society, if it was because it’s more acceptable to be with a man–any man–than to be a single woman, or if it was a class thing and people were being nice because they thought we had money. I would love to explore this more, given the chance. But I also loved that we were freely spoken to by black Puertorriqueños, and I felt embraced by them in a way I don’t often feel from blacks in the US.

Racialicious also has some posts on Blacks in Brazil (another place I intend to visit) and I will respond to that another time.

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Parental Privilege

An interesting “article-about-an-article” appeared in Racialicious today. The author analyzes Nicole Sprinkle’s essay in the New York Times, where she discusses raising her own White/Colombian daughter. Sprinkle displays a disturbing level of white privilege, openly wishing her daughter would disinherit her Latina heritage. (I won’t elaborate on this, as Sprinkle’s essay is rightly ripped apart by Thea over at Racialicious, and in many of the comments on the original NYT page). While vaguely acknowledging the reprehensibility of these attitudes, Ms. Sprinkle defends them as her “parental right.”

What a nightmare. I’ve heard White parents spouting this crap when they discuss adopting Asian or Black children, who then grow up with upsetting racial identity issues of their own. I remember some distant cousins, who would surely be incensed to hear of my upcoming interracial marriage, making fun of bi-racial kids on sight, calling them “confused.” My mother says she disagrees with Whites adopting black kids for this very reason, citing instead the problems black couples have when they attempt to go up against the adoption industry. She has a point. But there are too many unwanted & mistreated kids in this world. There are bi-racial kids who can grow up with a clear sense of who they are.

I guess I’m glad I’ve thought about this, because now, here I am about to walk down the aisle with a White man. We plan to have children eventually, and if that doesn’t work out, we’ll certainly consider adoption–interracial, international, domestic, etc. Obviously, no matter what we choose, we’ll be facing some of these issues.

I believe they’re similar to issues any minority parent faces, but somehow magnified: How to give the child a sense of identity? With which race will she identify most? Will either of us be offended if our child doesn’t identify with us? Will he feel left out if she ends up being very dark? How will I feel if she is very light? I know how to be black. I’m an expert! But my child, my Black/White child, will inhabit a world incredibly different than my own. What will that mean for us?

It is not, as Ms. Sprinkle asserts, my “parental right” to foist my identity on my child without examining my motives. It is, however, my obligation to examine my own biases and flaws, and do the best I can.

“Silent Invasion” [Every economic crisis needs a scapegoat]

This NYT article (from this Sunday’s edition) made me terribly upset.

The story is about a town in Texas and its mayor’s struggle with the issue of immigration. Apparently, the Hispanic population has soared, and the whites, no longer the majority, are feeling “invaded.” The article points out that Mayor Geary has “hispanic friends” (citing his favorite waitress and a co-worker, sounding eerily like all those racists that say, “I have black friends! One of them cleans my house”), but also engineered the city’s unprecedented “Hispanic Round-up,” where anyone who seemed illegal was taken away–even legal immigrants. The phrases that stuck out for me were:

“Silent invasion”

“Anyone who comes across the border should be shot” (This one met with applause) !!

“They don’t have any culture”

“Good old boy”

“Us”

“Them”

This whole paranoia & hysteria is Jim Crow all over again, but with a dangerous new economic “justification.” What a nightmare.

The comments reflect similar ignorances, with people saying to “take back America” and using the familiar “Go back to Africa Mexico” rhetoric. Also jumping into the fray are a few self-hating Latinos and legal immigrants, and a few logical voices suggesting some sort of compromise that doesn’t involve skin color or language.

My new catchphrase is, “What is wrong with everybody?” I say this all the time.

Only skinny white girls get married?

Photo by Kate Headley

Photo by Kate Headley

Two issues for the title of this post: One is that I have been diving head-first into the bridal marketing industry, and it is terribly vicious. It’s difficult being a part of a process that excludes me so easily.

It’s easy to see how people get swept up in the emotional aspect of it all. I’ll scream if I hear the phrase, “It’s your special day” one more time! Hopefully, I’m savvy enough not to fall for the unscrupulous vendors. One reason I might be able to avoid the rampant materialism and “Bridezilla” marketing tactics is that the bridal industry isn’t actually marketing to me.

The other is that I have been looking up photographers for my wedding, and since I am a photographer myself, am very particular. I’ve been looking at high-end photographers in my area, and I’m sorry to say that few of them have ever photographed any black people. It’s not a simple matter of getting your camera exposures right (although that’s a minor factor) but also, marketing your services to blacks. All the beautiful weddings I see feature almost exclusively White or Asian brides. Even if a photographer has included Black weddings, they are usually not prominently featured on his/her blog or website. I’ve been thinking about this for weeks and I have nothing but questions.

Why aren’t we represented in Bridal marketing? Where am I? I am TIRED. Doesn’t the “wedding industry” want our money, too? Do they not believe we will pay them? I know black people spend money, so it’s not like we wouldn’t pay if we liked it enough.

Looking at the advertisments, one would think that only skinny White girls get married. Or, is it just that Blacks & Hispanics do get married, but don’t hire high-end photographers worthy of being featured in any “Real Wedding of the Week” features? Where are we?

I don’t have anything intelligent to say…

Originally I wanted to write a clever post about what it’s like to deal with racists every day in one’s place of business or in daily interactions, but I am too worn down for that.

I unfortunately can’t give too many details, but I am so tired of racism in my everyday life! It is exhausting.

I know it was worse in many ways for generations past, but I also believe that things are difficult in a new way now; our parents & grandparents didn’t have this burden of “pretend integration” that we do now, which is strange and surreal. People discuss race in this odd, superficial way; as if they are really making progress. In many ways, things haven’t changed in the slightest.

Race has been discussed in a  new way in recent years; first with Katrina (when several obviously racist email jokes were passed around my office) and now with Obama.

Incidentally, if anyone spoke cleverly about race recently, it was Eric Holder, who was quite blunt and forceful about the subject. He is even more tired than I am.

No, you’re NOT “just like me”

What a nightmare. The success of America’s new Republican friend represents everything wrong with race relations in America right now.

I can’t count how many things irritated me about her performance in the vice presidential debate, but I was especially irritated at her “Just like you” crap. Think of the implications of this!

So, once again, her pitch is that we should vote for her because she, a white woman, best represents America, instead of the scary “other,” represented by Barack. Arrrgh!!! When will this stop? I am tired!

For years, black & white women have had an uncomfortable relationship. Going back to slavery, when the house slave was usually a black woman who performed all the same functions as the “wife” but without the legitimacy, there has always been the assumption that, as a black woman, or as a black person, you could do as well as a white person or even better — but it will never count for anything.

Ms. Sarah is yet another “white girl” whose rise to the top is meteoric almost unbelievable — if you didn’t consider America’s racial history and who she’s running against.

She is undeniably wrong, however. Instead of an elite, exclusionary “white Suburban woman” message (if I hear “hockey mom” one more time I will SCREAM), Barack represents and embodies everything we need to move forward in this country. Barack really is America, and everyone, black white or whatever, can see themselves in his face. This is so plainly obvious to me that I don’t understand why we even have to have discussions like this.

I’ve got to go find something happy to write about!

You’ve got to be kidding.

August 12, 2008 1 comment