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Being Raced

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 7:40 PM


“The only difference between African slaves and European or British slaves was that the latter could run away and melt into the population. But if you were black, you were noticeable.”

~Toni Morrison


i have always wondered what it was like to be white.

i have always wondered what it's like to navigate a world that is not suspicious of your presence, to be able to blend seamlessly into the background without much notice. i wonder what it's like to not represent everyone that looks like you. i know, white people have their own issues & crosses to bear, but growing up as a Black girl in America, i was keenly aware that no matter where i went, or how i behaved...eyes were always watching and judging.

early on, my parents--slightly militant--told me i always had to be on my A-game. they instilled in me an intense determination to achieve, not only for myself, but for each member of my family (and race) who did not have the opportunity to "make it." if i didn't make a good grade in school, my grandmother would tell me about the trouble she had attending school in rural Arkansas. she would say how she had to wake up early to work the cotton field, go to school, and come home to continue working the fields, all while she and her family faced racist Jim Crow laws. she would recount having to attend segregated schools in subpar environments, all to illustrate her point that i had it so much better and had no reason at all NOT to achieve.

i have always carried this idea in my head, that black people must be better than. while i know that i am not able to represent all black people, i do know that for some, i am the only (positive) representative that they see.

i was listening to NPR the other day and Toni Morrison was discussing her new book, A Mercy. her book deals with issues of slavery, but without the slaves being "raced," meaning, she is taking a look at slavery across racial lines, before any sort of racial implications were used to delineate types of servants. as i tried to wrap my mind around the idea of being "raced," or rather NOT being raced, i listened to This American Life as they traveled through Pennsylvania with both presidential campaigns. unsurprisingly, Obama volunteers were finding some resistance to Obama, not on issues of the economy or the war, but solely on the issue of race. in September, The Wall Street Journal reported

Barack Obama’s race could be the deciding factor if the presidential battle remains a dead heat on Election Day, according to an Associated Press poll released today in conjunction with Stanford University. The survey finds that many white Americans — particularly Democrats and Independent voters — still hold deep-seated reservations about African Americans.

The survey of 2,227 adults has a 2% margin of error and showed one-third of white Democrats hold negative views of blacks.


as i listened to both broadcasts, read countless articles, and overdosed on political news, i started to think about ways in which race is applied and used as a tool suppress achievement.

there is no secret that this country was founded on the basis of systematic white supremacy, which coldly annihilated the indigenous population and treated Africans as chattel. instead of bestowing the right of citizenship to enslaved Africans, our forefathers thought up the three-fifths compromise, which essentially resolved that African-Americans were less than human. despite great gains in civil rights and racial equality, this institutional supremacy has continued to permeate all aspects of our society. the inequality found in our schools, our communities, and our legal system are just reminders that the playing field is not level.

as we sit on the cusp of possibly electing an African-American president, i am both hopeful and suspicious of what this will mean for our nation. will we use this momentous act as catalyst to once and for all deal with the racist systems still in place in our country? or we will act as if all has been healed, and that the election of Obama will represent reparations for all that has been done to America's blacks?

as Cornel West once stated, "A fully functional multiracial society cannot be achieved without a sense of history and open, honest dialogue." despite all of our imperfections, i am still hopeful that we can/will continue this honest dialogue and move past the issues that continue to impede our progress.

11 Response to 'Being Raced'

  1. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225371540000#c6521474988384259039'> Thursday, October 30, 2008 5:59:00 AM

    What a beautiful, thoughtful, introspective post. Seriously, it makes me giddy that someone is not only thinking about this, but saying it loud enough for the masses to hear. I thank you for making me THINK today. Now, I'm hyped.

    I would LOVE it if you visited my blog, and considered contributing a piece. Take a look around and let me know if you're interested at contributetomybrownbaby@gmail.com

     

  2. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225373460000#c3623316181733331182'> Thursday, October 30, 2008 6:31:00 AM

    I too have often wondered what it would be like. What would it be like to easily get away with things? To have assumptions about me that were good rather than bad...must be a good feeling.

    Growing up, it was always instilled in me to not do good but great. Even when I ventured to Spelman, the professors and administrators always emphasized the importance of being excellent, for we had two odds by being Black and women. At times, it made me mad because I wanted to go and play with my friends more or act a fool in high school, but because I was Black (in an all White, private school) that wasn't a choice for me. Number one, society wouldn't forgive me as much as they would my White school mates, and number two, my mom wasn't having that (whoopings lasted until I left for college...LOL).

    In all, I'm proud to be Black, for it's a beautiful thing, but it's hard being Black in America.

     

  3. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225389660000#c6521383397960215291'> Thursday, October 30, 2008 11:01:00 AM

    great post
    i never wondered figured i would have had my head placed on poles on the road out of town

     

  4. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225411620000#c939366552423084678'> Thursday, October 30, 2008 5:07:00 PM

    Denene: i'm so happy that you found something that made you think. sometimes i find that we don't get to do that enough. thank you for stopping by. i will definetely check out your blog.

    beautifully: i too am proud. while i might imagine what it would be like to be on the other side of the looking glass, i wouldn't want to permanently be there.

    torrance: i'm going to need you to work on those typos, folk. LOL. but thank you.

     

  5. Charisse Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225485240000#c5393654985628186601'> Friday, October 31, 2008 1:34:00 PM

    I love the post. My brain is ticking and churning. Thank you for that! And I love that video clip!

     

  6. AfroChic Said,
    http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225568760000#c3625550284643197989'> Saturday, November 01, 2008 12:46:00 PM

    Interesting post. I never wished to be white but I too have not enjoyed the burden of representing the race all the time, so I feel you. Maybe it's just the privileges that I longed for. When I traveled to Ghana, one of the most glorious moments was just walking down the street amongst all those black people who looked like me and feeling like I blended (as long as I kept my mouth shut lol)and the privilege that went along-receiving the benefit of the doubt and not being 'other' even if it was just for a moment. I'm really looking forward to Toni M's new book.

     

  7. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225646400000#c205755550437108281'> Sunday, November 02, 2008 9:20:00 AM

    I'm an islander so I do not have to live so much with the feeling of being different. We do have an inferiority complex as a whole, in that we feel deep down that white people are better. That's why the wholesalers make a a killing from bleaching cream and fake hair. That's why we tend to be subservient to browner people and arrogant to darker people.

    But on to the big question of your post. Will an Obama win substitute for reparation? While I do not think so, I may not share the same expecatations about reparation as you. In my response to your comment on my related blog post, I drew an analogy of a sibling taking a special toy and breaking it. Once it's broken, it really can't be returned whole. So the most Mom and Dad can really do, is get that sibling to offer an apology and not repeat the behaviour. Similarly, a lot of hurt has been inflicted on blacks. Can this be undone? Can they unbreak our hearts? Maybe not, but they can make ammends. I believe that if the majority of America votes for Obama, that would be a huge statement in itself. It will be the dawn of a new day, and hopefully, more tangible gains will then be made in terms of making systems more equal. I say this advisedly; Obama cannot be a messiah for minority groups, and we might do him and ourselves a great injustice if we harbour unreasonable expectations. That's why in my post I give a 100 year timeline to get to the place where we want to be, a place where skin tone doesn't matter at all. Some people feel like one million years is a more realistic time frame for that. I don't know.

    Just the same, if Obama wins, I don't think we can overstate the significance of it.

     

  8. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225730220000#c420148273552479734'> Monday, November 03, 2008 8:37:00 AM

    Amazing post.

     

  9. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225770060000#c5314238453694903809'> Monday, November 03, 2008 7:41:00 PM

    I'm linking to you.

     

  10. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225771920000#c2676375193041916558'> Monday, November 03, 2008 8:12:00 PM

    charisse: thank you! i appreciate your comments.

    afrochick: i feel you. i can't even begin to imagine what that experience must have felt like. one day tho.

    Jacqueline: i understand your point. however, to play off of your analogy, i would say that while an apology and a change of behavior is nice, you also want your toy replaced. now, while i know that America cannot give us back what was stripped from us (our cultural ties), it can try to make amends. and those amends should start with an acknowledgment of what has been done. i feel like our society expects us to just move on from the atrocities that have happened to us, even though we were slaves a little over a generation ago. i am hopeful, i don't want to seem too jaded. i am hopeful that we will continue to move in the right direction.

    and thank you for the link!

     

  11. http://theprisonerswife.blogspot.com/2008/10/being-raced.html?showComment=1225771980000#c1322093631416795871'> Monday, November 03, 2008 8:13:00 PM

    sarah: thank you!