Race Matters

August 23, 2010
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Race matters.

And in an increasingly socially conscious world, it’s no longer ignored or abused as it once was. In our country, and in virtually the entire world, the white race is always the dominant race. But there are subcultures, little pockets of the real world, where everything is reversed. Countries, states, neighborhoods… schools. And my middle school happened to be one of these “fantasy” worlds. The majority ruled, but the majority was black. And to be white, in this world, was to be the minority, the underdog, the persecuted. But what if you were only half?

Middle schoolers have never been considered the best judges of… anything, except maybe video games (though many middle aged men would beg to differ). And to let them judge your character would be something that only a fellow middle schooler would do. Being the erratic and prejudice judges that they were, clothing style, Tomagachi owning status, and after school club membership were big factors in your “coolness.” Another, modeling the big world, was race.

I am half black, half white. When I started middle school, I would always respond truthfully to the irritation question “what are you?” As the months went by and people’s angry attitudes towards the countries majority race became clear, I began to hide my heritage. In our nations context, hearing of a girl hiding her white past is almost unheard of. Girls passing for white in the Jim Crow era seems normal, not a girl hiding her European roots.

Trying to make up for my dad’s pale skin, I tried listening just to rap and r&b, then memorizing all of the artists, fearing some sort of “blackness” test. At school events, I was almost afraid to socialize with my dad, fearing my peer’s reactions. Interestingly, looking back, I’m sure it was very obvious who my father was. I hadn’t done a very good job “hiding” it and my skin tone had to come from somewhere. But besides these glaring clues, I had a couple friends who just never got the message.

One of these friends was black. She was really into her blackness, African American culture, and proud of her heritage. I think that is an excellent thing, especially after so many studies that prove inferiority complexes among African American girls. But her pride presented itself in an anti-white form. A white friend of mine, suffered from her harsh criticisms and exclusions because of her race. My other friend who most objected to my Caucasian half, was actually a Vietnamese girl. Early in our middle school career, she had asked me “Why my skin was so light,” and I, assuming she knew, had shrugged and mentioned “genes.” As time went on, her views of Caucasians as evil oppressors became clearer, and my “secret” remained a secret, I just never got around to telling her. Not telling her, soon became a difficult task, which became hiding my father from her. Thoughts of these two friends meeting my dad kept me up at night.

But of course, there was no way to keep them in the dark forever, barring a cross country move or a sudden break from peer pressure by a 7th grader (not sure which was less likely to happen), and my days of secrets were nearing an end. With my Vietnamese friend, the end was unexpected. A simple trip to the grocery store found her at the end of the cereal aisle. Unable to ignore her presence, an introduction was in store. And she was polite. And perfectly unfazed. When school returned, she didn’t mention it, and everything went back to normal. I was shocked. I had thought that whiteness was the ultimate curse in her eyes. Really, she was just a 7th grader that watched too much TV and talked too much.

The African American friend revealing was a little rougher. One day in our after school art class (which involved little art, and lots of boycotting for more r&b during class), my friend got a hold of my brand new cell phone. And of course, following the rules of cell phone nosiness, she headed straight for my pictures. “Who is this?” and I knew she was talking about my dad. And my answer provoked screeching and hitting and attracted a lot of attention. She demanded to know how my dad could be white, why I hadn’t told her, and why I was so “cool” if I had a white dad. A couple days of ragging about this ensued, but mostly because I had kept it a secret so long. As soon as the next big issue came up, my dad was a forgotten, widely known, and accepted issue.

So this could be a lesson in a lot of things. Maybe it taught me not to care about what others think and to stand by what , and who, is important to me. Maybe this was a lesson in acceptance, self-acceptance and in others, that shows us all to never have preconceptions about other races, cultures, genders, or backgrounds, because no matter who their dad is, someone can still be “cool.” Or maybe this is just a story of how middle schoolers really just reflect our modern society and how messed up it is! One group intimidates, an individual cowers and hides, the secret gets out, and nobody really cares. Whatever the deep dark moral of this story was, I’m glad I was finally able to accept myself and maybe get some real life practice out of it all!

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