You Know What? You Can't "Check A Box", Either

... my "white" friend. You really can't. Because by doing so, you're also buying into the whole race thing. If you too, really want to bridge chasms, get past this Divide, try to understand why we separate ourselves this way, you've got to do a little digging, too.

This was sort of gnawing around the corners of my mind over the past few days... I think it started with blogger Jacqui who noted her German-Dominican ancestry and her fair skin. And that people assume she's white. And by others in my life, both real and online who have said "well, I'm non-nondescript, generic White." But it wasn't really bothering me until it suddenly exploded in my head full-blown, as I stepped out of the Puerto Rican loncheria across the street from my Sun's violin lesson where I'd gone to get a cup of coffee (they make the best damn coffee in the neighborhood, because they use Bustelo and serve it with half-and-half when I ask).

Technically, you can't just check the "white" box. Like mine, your ancestors may have been here for generations. The Mayflower, even. But they came from somewhere other than here. They may have come from Germany, or Italy, or Alsace-Lorraine or Scotland or Ireland. Maybe Spain, or Portugal. And maybe you've forgotten, and maybe it wasn't important to remember because your great-grands and great-great-grands felt that they were entitled to be here.

The difference between your European ancestors, and my African ones, is simply "choice". Predominantly, your European ancestors, as well as mine, chose to come to this land. Most--if not all, of my African ones, including the one brought over by a missionary I'm quite sure had no say in the matter. My Native ancestors and yours, well they were here from the beginning. And even if you go through your whole family tree and discover not one Native (which, truly, I doubt) or one African (improbable but not impossible), you will find that they came over here from somewhere.

My Latina friend, the one who was adopted by a "white" woman, has an adopted family tree that goes all the way back to England in the 16-and 1700's, back across the water. Her mother's family came from somewhere. And I seem to recall that she may even found out that some of them were actually Jewish, before they became Christian.

Bob, Mr. Kip's longtime friend who I met when Mr. Kip made his Great Journey, considered himself "white." He certainly looked what is considered to be "white" with his clear blue eyes and thinning white hair. But when we got to talking, he told me about his Iroquois grandmother. Who couldn't marry his German grandfather because of Ohio's miscegenation laws. And about his father's Irish family, where he got his name.

And then there's Bliss Broyard, who discovered as her father lay dying that he was in fact, a (very very) light-skinned "black". She's added video to her site, in which she gives a very brief synopsis of how he managed to cross the divide. I had a damn good chuckle as she relays the story of her mother's concern over the possibility of having a brown baby, and how the pastor she went to told her that the baby wouldn't be any darker than the darker one of the two of them.

(Hmmm. That doesn't explain my father's mother... called "Negrita" by her fair-skinned hazel-eyed Puerto Rican father, her own mother bearing very little resemblance to what is considered "black". In horse-breeding language they would call her a "throwback." But I digress.)

But the point I'm making is... maybe you too, have forgotten who you are. And maybe you ought to find out.

It was undoubtedly easier for your forbears to shed their old heritage and ancestry for a new life in America. Maybe it was better for them to just be "American" rather than a convict shipped over from England, or someone who wanted to freely practice a new belief system (or an old one), or a woman who wanted to be strong and live freely and not have to live her life by strict Victorian or Edwardian standards. The only reason they were able to do so, without having to own the baggage that came with them from where ever it was they came from, was because their skin wasn't "stained." There was no "mark of Cain"... not a visible one, anyway.

And it was only the circumstances of the times... the fact that so much was going on at the time, and new discoveries of land and trade routes, and wars raging in far away lands like Africa, and potato famines and poverty and plague and the discovery that a good life could be created somewhere else... it was circumstance that set the tone for what happened next. But that doesn't excuse you from owning who you are.

And this particular post isn't about blame or who-did-what-to-who, or the horrors of it all, and I'm not going in to that part. I think the horrors of it all affected all of us, whether we were the victims or the perpetrators, in much the same way an abusive relationship is bad for all involved, particularly the children. It's the children who suffer the most. Hell, maybe we could all benefit from therapy.

But anyway, what I am saying is that if I reject the notion of "Black" and the definition of what is "Black", then by rights I have to object to the notion of "White." I most certainly will accept "American," I have no problem with it at all. I don't even have a problem accepting that "American" means "it doesn't really matter where my people came from... I may even have forgotten. But I was born here, my parents were born here, my grandparents were too. And maybe even the grands and great-grands."

Except brown folk aren't allowed to forget... we can't forget. Most of us are reminded every day that we are "black"... and not necessarily by "white" people, either. For so long we were told that we had no history, that our history couldn't be traced. But at the same time we weren't allowed to belong "here". And then after awhile we came to believe that and a whole bunch of us still don't believe we belong "here". I probably wouldn't have felt I belonged here if I hadn't had the experience of knowing that I don't belong anywhere else. So we need to remember, so that we too, have the luxury of forgetting everything but the fact that we are American.

Eh, in the long run I know none of this REALLY matters... nor will it change anything.

But the technicality of it pisses me off...

But if you get around to it, give the idea some thought...


Job said…
I hear you... and BTW, it's more Irish Dominican with a hint of German... ;-)
The Bear Maiden said…
LOL. And quite a mix, I may add.

But the passion in your comment got to me.
Carrie said…
Nice post Jesi. These posts of yours have really resonated with me. And I certainly haven't (and won't) experience what you experience, but they have hit me anyway.

I don't check any boxes, FWIW.
The Bear Maiden said…
Thanks Carrie. And your experiences over in Hawaii are very interesting to me. And I like that you don't check off the boxes, LOL.
Ros said…
I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Maybe we could all start writing in "I don't know for sure"? Let them collect demographic data on THAT.
Silly anecdote about me & race: at rehearsal last week, a teen was complaining about cast who couldn't learn the dance, and I made some comment like, "Give them a break, they're all middle-aged white women". Teen looked at me and said, "But so are you" and I snapped back without thinking, "Only on the outside!"
The Bear Maiden said…
After looking up info and realizing that they have 10 Federal designations, that they will change your info to suit gov't needs, I really DO wonder what would happen if people consistently refused to choose a race. It might go back to days of old, when the census takers would come to your door, and decide for you based on your features and skin-tone--and of course who you lived with.
Natalie said…
Mmm, this is good stuff, TBM. I need to go think on this some more, but I'm totally appreciating your point.
Julie said…
The Bliss Broyard thing cracked me up. My grandparents were very light - lighter than I am - and I'd say about half their children were darker than them. I posted a picture on my blog:

Popular Posts