Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Tricky World of Racial Identifiers

So I'm in my hometown of Wichita, KS this week and went to the mall with my sister in law, neice and daughter. On our way out, we were trying to figure out where a certain restaurant is, and I decided to ask a couple mall employees who were on their way out of the building. The woman was White and the man was Black.

The woman said the restaurant was at Harry and Woodlawn and then the Black guy says, "But you probably don't want to go there, there's lots of Black people there."

I laughed and said, "I don't mind Black people - we ARE* Black people." He looked at me like I was crazy and I pointed to my daughter, who is biracial - Black and White. She is fair skinned with freckles, green eyes and red hair - red hair with a kinky, coiled, Black texture. At first glance, many people assume she's just White.

*Let me note that I do not mean to say I think I'm a Black person just because my daughter is, I was saying, "You insult one of us, you insult all of us".

The guy realizes that my daughter is biracial and starts backtracking, but he really just made it worse. "Oh, I was just saying that there are a lot of ghetto people, gang bangers over there."

So . . . he was trying to communicate ghetto and gangbanger by saying Black to me. Awesome. Then he starts touching his hair (which is long, curly & pulled back in a ponytail) and saying how he's "Pretty Ricky". Pretty Ricky is a term used for Puerto Ricans or Black people who look Latino (whether they are or aren't). I take this to mean that he's referring to our whole conversation - Race Can Be Tricky, Y'all - but who knows, maybe I read him wrong. I thanked them for the information and said, "Let's go." Then I ranted in the car for 20 minutes about the way people deal with race in my hometown and scared my sister in law because I was driving fast. Sorry, SIL!

Now - besides recounting this experience, I want to ask a question. I was telling this story on Twitter, and a friend asked me why I use a single racial identifier (Black) for my biracial daughter (specifically I said she is Black-who-looks-White), and whether I ever use "White." I thought about it, and no, I never refer to her or my other two kids as just White, though I occasionally refer to them as Black. More often we use "biracial", "mixed" (outdated & offensive to some, I believe) or "Black and White".

My response is that I let the kids pick their own identifiers and we've talked a lot about them so they know they can pick what they want, when they want. It's their right to decide who they are & how they present themselves. I know my daughter, especially, gets asked the race question (What are you?) often because she has White coloring, a mixture of features, and Black hair texture. She often has to defend that yes, she is in fact Black, because people (usually kids) don't believe her. She mostly says she is bi-racial, Black and White.

I tend to refer to my kids as Black when we're in a situation like the one above - where someone is not taking into account that they have someone non-White in their presence and are saying some foolish stuff. Now, I speak up whether they're with me or not, but making their presence known usually stops the speaking person in their tracks when they realize they're talking about someone actually in front of them.

I also told my friend that after thinking about it, if my kids call themselves Black, I don't feel as though they are denying their White side. But if they were to call themselves White, I would feel as though they are denying their Black side.

My friend is concerned that my perspective on this is adding to the "one drop" concept - that a single drop of Black blood negates a person's Whiteness. This is a concept that has been used to discriminate against people of mixed ancestry.

You all know that I care a lot about race, that I talk about it, learn about it, try very hard to grow and get rid of prejudices I've grown up with. What do you think about this, and how I've been viewing race in terms of how my kids identify, and how I identify them?

For myself, I think that my friend is right - I am bolstering that concept . . . but knowing that doesn't change how I perceive my kids' race. I'm not saying I won't work on changing this perception - I probably will. I'd like to know your thoughts, though.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sharing the Love

I get a lot of praise at work. I’ve been really fortunate to work for and with some high-profile people in my organization (though I personally don’t have a fancy position), people who are great supervisors and who give me many opportunities to shine. I do think that I do good work, but I think my successes may seem more obvious because they are more visible. I think many other people I work with deserve accolades as well and I actively work on telling the leaders of our org about the great things others are doing as well as suggesting that they be consulted or brought into projects.

An area where I’d like to improve is praising people to their face. I’d like to tell my peers and those above me when I appreciate something, and when I think they’ve done something well. It’s not that I never do this, but I don’t do it as often as I’d like, and I often feel awkward about it.

Any suggestions?
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