Friday, July 14, 2006

Can't we all just get along?

"Why does anyone see color anyway?"
"Who cares what color anyone is?"

These questions were posed by my white friend Jenny. These are questions that I think a lot of people have, and I'm glad that someone asked them. They reminded me of an experience that I had one day at work.

One of my co-workers, (I'll call her Lily) was very short. Of course, many other things were true about her (kind of sarcastic, cool glasses) but short was one of the most obvious things that made her stand out from others, and I'd be willing to bet one of the first things that strangers noticed about her.

So one day at work, we were talking with someone else and somehow the topic of Lily's height came up. She told us that she was 4'11''. Upon hearing this I said, "Oh, if you were one inch shorter, you'd be a little person." She didn't respond directly, but I could tell from her body language and expression that she was not happy about my comment.

Realize two things. First, I did not say, "You'd be a midget." I know that that is a term that many people are offended by. Second, what I said was true. 4'10 is typically the cutoff to be categorized as a little person, and Lily was one inch taller than that. So, why did she get so upset?

I think the reason that she got so upset was because of the connotation that "little person/midget" brought up. When people hear these terms a number of thoughts can come up: child-like, weak, mentally disabled, scary, people in the circus, etc. Lily got upset because with my comment, she thought perhaps I was insinuating some of those things as well. I wasn't, but that's really beside the point.

So...what does this have to do with being black?

I think the reason that some people don't want to "see color" is because of the connotations that go along with acknowledging that you have noticed someone's race.

We see color because we have eyes. Colors are some of the first things that little children can learn. When I look at people my brain immediately says, "He's black, he's white, she's short, she's tall, he's skinny, he's fat. Whoa--he has green hair." I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

The problem starts when we take it one step further with, " He's black and wearing baggy clothes--he must be dangerous. She's blond--she must be stupid. He's overweight--he must be lazy. She's Asian--she must be good at math."

Even with so-called "positive" stereotypes like being good at math; these serve only to limit the possibilities for people to be who they want to be.

What is wrong with seeing me and saying "she's black"? I am black. But what else does that mean about who I am?

The next time that you see a person that looks different that you, try to be aware of what else your brain is telling you about what that person is probably like.

As always, I welcome your comments. I won't be posting this weekend, but I will be back next week with more to say, and I look forward to hearing what you guys think.


  1. First and foremost, thanx for the kind words. I just started with this whole blogging thing, and I find it so interesting that random people can just check in on what you've written. Secondly, I read your site and find it amazing. Your view on the whole stereotyping thing is refreshing and dare I say, funny. I'm Puerto Rican and have no problem with my vision, as I've seen every color in the rainbow. Hope to hear from you again -- I'll definitely be returning to yours. Laterz.

  2. So I guess the question is, "how can it be stopped?" I was watching the movie Crash over the weekend (which I find funny because my impression is that they tried to create a movie where every single character is a complete racist) and I began to wonder, what?

    I have either the curse or privilege depending on how you look at these things, of being a minority that can blend in with White America (Jewish). I wonder at what point in the cultural exchange things started going wrong. Do we need a cultural mulligan? Have we reached the point where there is so much baggage between cultures that there's no such thing as cohabitation where race doesn't play a factor?

    I went to a school that was just about completely made up of different Christian groups. So my first instinct when other people call me a Jew is to be not quite ashamed, but offended and on edge. My religion/Culture was always one more reason for over-privileged white kids to pick on me. But privately, I'm proud that at least I'm a bit different.

    I've never had the experience of being immediately identified as Jewish. But I wonder if it would be the same sort of thing. Would my past experiences lead me blame anti-Semitism for failure or lack of acceptance?

    It leads me back to my original point: there is now so much past drama between me and White America that I wonder how it'd be possible to wipe it clean. Keep in mind, that I'm aware that the drama is just as much, if not more, in my feelings towards them as theirs towards me.

    So what now? Would we even want to start over? How much of my personality and self-worth is based on having experienced being different?

    Just something to consider.

  3. Hey there MBF, thanks for noticing my meandering, for-the-moment gluttonous blog. Your blog is a great idea. I hope the week's hiatus is only temporary.

    I suppose I have a story to share, and maybe you can give some feedback on it. I was out for some drinks in Ottawa, and this dude was talking about the Dave Chappelle movie, and how he went to see it and was annoyed that white people in the audience were laughing at the jokes. According to him, white people shouldn't laugh at DC's joke that "black people don't buy juice, they buy sugar-water" because it's racist.

    Now, Dave Chappelle is a professional comedian, and of course, comedian's deal in stereotypes. People laugh because they are aware of the stereotype. I lived with black guys when I was at university, and in fact, when they bought groceries they would by "orange drink" as opposed to "orange juice." I only lived with two black guys though, and I have no idea if this is the case for black people in general. Probably, like most stereotypes, it comes from some truth, but obviously there are exceptions.

    So it could potentially be funny. If I laugh, is that racism? And if I don't laugh, does it matter, because clearly if I think it is funny, well, I am recognising the stereotype, right?

    I thought they guy was being an idiot because he wasn't black, so, unlike MBF here, he wasn't speaking on behalf of black people. What do you make of this?