Monday, January 28, 2008

I accidentally made a white girl sad today.

So this semester I'm taking a cultural anthropology class on the peoples of the Circum-Caribbean, taught by this tiny, outspoken African-American female professor with an accent I might call "used-to-be-Brooklyn." Slightly intimidating woman for a certain type of person, I guess.

The first day of class, after some introductory, get-to-know-you type stuff, we started talking about race, and specifically how it's constructed in the United States. The professor started asking a girl, a very sweet-looking, very young-looking, (maybe even looking a lot like the mythical college girl ranted about by a certain crazy blogger we'll call Smizmar) white girl in the front row questions about the differences between the two of them. The girl mentioned skin color, hair curliness, nose width, and other phenotypical (physical) traits, at which the professor kept prompting, "What else? What is the difference between black people and white people in the United States?"

I got what she was trying to get at (as in, the differences lie more in terms of social, cultural constructions than physical ones), so I, thinking I was being helpful, offered to the white girl, "Well, you might live in a wealthier neighborhood." After which the white girl turned beet-red and everyone else in the class went, "OOOoooOOoo!" The black girl behind me said under her breath, "Nice one!"

So now for the rest of the semester I guess I'm Huey Freeman from The Boondocks or something.

To which I have to ask, why is that? Why is merely acknowledging the social and economic disparities that occur between races (yes, that's a touch simplistic, I know, but for brevity's sake, etc., etc.) a revolutionary, radical thing? Especially in the context of an anthropology class, because you can't talk about the culture unless you can talk about the fucking culture.

Bah. So, white girl, I'm sorry I embarrassed you. I didn't mean to. I didn't think reality would be embarrassing.


Renegade Evolution said...

blink blink...


Vanessa said...

Seriously. It was just so...Really? Is this something we're not allowed to talk about?

I mean, it seems so incredible, but fucking *race issues* keep rearing their ugly head in my life recently. Race issues. in 2008.

CrackerLilo said...

I do know it's far, far, far more likely that a white person will live in a wealthier neighborhood than a black one, but if you check out the Appalachians or a trailer park, you'll quickly see that's not always true. I wonder what this girl's background is. Also, it could be she was trying to be polite and not make assumptions based on things she doesn't know.

Or as Kid Rock once sang, "I ain't straight outta Compton, I'm straight out da trailer!"

Trying to help...

CrackerLilo said...

One more thing--the fact is, in this classroom at least, the professor (any color, gender, etc.) has a lot of power-over in this relationship. She holds most of the marbles. It's also a new relationship. Whatever else goes on in the larger world, this professor has the ability to not only flunk this student (or you, or a third student altogether), but to tag her as racist or otherwise anti-social for the rest of her academic career. So.

All this said, I do wish I'd taken more classes like that. I'm a marketing major, so I had only one Anthropology 101 class. I practice Vodoun ("voodoo") and my best friend from high school up is from Jamaica, so this particular class might have helped me quite a bit! I hope the class is a fun and productive one.

Vanessa said...

I don't think it was her lack of understanding what the professor was getting at that was bugging me. I thought I was being the nice helpful older woman in the class by making the suggestion.

It just, for me, goes back to the whole idea of aknowleging the racial imbalance of power in American society is somehow an insult to the whole people present. When I said what I did, I didn't mean it in the "ohh, burn!" way the girl and the mostly white classroom took it. It was meant more as a statement of fact, which it is (albiet simplistically so). I mean, one should never confuse the way things are with the way things ought to be. That's like the first thing they teach you in anthropologist school.

Really, this is the same thing that happens *again and again* to me, a POC, when I talk about race around white people (which, btw, is a term I always feel weird about using, but fits here). It's not meant as an attack, you (the general you, not you specifically lol) don't have to get defensive. But if you're going to study a culture academically then you have to *deal* with the fact that it's a racist one that probably (although not definitely) benefit you based on the color of your skin, just like it will probably (although not definitely) hurt me based on the color of my skin. You have to deal with that so that you can study how and why that comes about.

And then, maybe you can try to change it.

But if we can't move past flabbergastery (is that a word?) or indignation when the subject is even broached then nothing will be understood and nothing will change.

And that is my rant of the day lol.

Vanessa said...

And by "whole people present" I mean of course "white people present."

Which is what I get for ranting via sidekick.

Octogalore said...

I think you WERE helping her out.

That said, I wonder if there were a more foolproof way of doing it, like... none of your relatives were ever sent to the back of the bus, you probably haven't had people treat you differently because of skin color, etc. While there are definitely economic differences en masse among racial groups, there are exceptions such that if one had applied there, she could have said so and missed your point.

That said, kudos for speaking up, and hopefully she learned something.

belledame222 said...

Yeah, it's one thing if the white girl in question had whatever personal going on there I suppose; but you know, it's true, it's treated like a terrible faux pas to just, not even accusatorily, just plainly, acknowledge basic disparities in the room, in general.

maybe that's why when it does finally come out wrt "check your privilege" or whatnot that it seems like such a big honking deal to so many people.

maybe it's that part of the System one is supposedly trying to unpack and unravel relies on "you suck, you fucked up, you'll never be good enough, but you're still not allowed to stop trying." It's true that relatively privileged people tend to wallow in these wounds to the detriment of acknowledging that -other people- have the same damn shit and more besides; still, fact is, yeah, there are wounds. Shame culture, or something.

eh, I'm rambling, I guess.

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner said...

Hey, girl. You like the old punkUation? I do. I love’m. Black Flag? MDC? GBH? DRI? SocD? I saw’m at the Outhouse, Lawrence, KS. They kick, some, ass. Not that wimpy, wussy GreenDay/WingoStarr cr@p. *barff'n* That's also taken on a new angst in my finite existence: try to git U.S. punks to not look so much at the whorizontal, but at Heaven Above where the sky‘s the limit. God blessa youse -Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL