Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Why Can't You Be White?"

“Don’t you trust them, not a one [White people]. They will smile in your face all day and go on and have a lynchin party in your honor that same night they smiled in your face. There aint a friend you can make in a white person, something deep down in them won’t let nothing like that happen.”

-My mother Lovie Bell Brown (Who grew up in a small town in Georgia and used to picked cotton as a child, with welts on her hands to prove it)

I recall entering Kindergarten at a predominately white school and how my aunties stayed at the door of my class until halfway through the day. I recall especially looking for other Black persons in the class to at least make me feel at ease, since no one in my class seemed to look like me. They all had pale faces but different colored hair. And I remember sitting down with my overalls on in anticipation of learning. That year I learned more than academics. One day I was headed out of class and one of my “friends” at the time asked me an odd question that still sticks with me today. She said “Why can’t you be white so you can come over to my house and play?” After telling my family this they were outraged but eerily seemed to know that this incident or something of this nature would occur.

Fast forward nine years later and I’m entering ninth grade at a school that was predominately Black. This school though predominately Black was classist and had it’s own form of racism, i.e. Caribbean Students versus the rest of the student population. This go round because of the discrimination in that manner and discrimination via class, I found myself with white American friends as well as Black American friends. (With a few Caribbean students as well who didn’t care to discriminate) My white male friends and I tended to hang out quite a bit, and I was around my white female friends in school but outside of school not so much. I always kept in the back of my mind what had happened to me when I was in Kindergarten and while I was friends with them, I kept my distance for the most part as far as going over to their houses or spending time with them outside of school and extracurricular activities.

My mother and father had told me horror stories as a child of the lynchings in which they had seen and how many occurred, my aunts reinforced in me that because we were in the South to be very weary of having white friends. This was quite evident thereafter graduation as scores of my “friends” went away to college and many of us who graduated together were left behind to attend the community college or find work where we could. Color was always evident to me but color and class became the most evident to me after graduation.

This “issue” has spanned well into my adult life. Having very few friends and many acquaintances I noticed that I can count on my hands the amount of white women I refer to as acquaintances, I can count on one hand the white women I consider “friends”. But this is because of my life and my reality. After all what do we have in common other than the fact that we are women? (Though as a Black woman I must say we have had to and continue to fight to have to be looked at as women) My struggles are not that of the white woman (Though if we bring class into this argument it is a completely different ballgame) and never will be.

I have to first fight to be seen as a woman and in that same token be fight to be seen as human because I am Black. I am proudly a double minority but could a white woman ever understand my plight? The world would have us all thinking that this is the norm and not the deviation from it. (Interracial friendships that is) As a person who is an Africana Feminist (Which is a term dually noted with Black and or Africana feminism and or Africana Womanism) I have had to write and particularly pay attention to this. While paying attention to this I realize that no one explains this dilemma more eloquently than Sojourner Truth in her “Aint I a woman” speech which was delivered in 1855 at a convention for women. While it is an old speech the words still ring true.

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles or gives me any best place! And aint I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And aint I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man when I could get it and bear the lash as well. And aint I a woman?” I think those words should be thought over and thought about seriously when in reference to interracial friendships. The world treats us Black women and white women differently, thus while a friendship can and may occur what depths can it reach?

References

Truth, S. (n.d.). Aint' I a Woman? Feminist. Retrieved from http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/sojour.htm

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