The Blind Side

{“I found myself ostracized on the one hand by black classmates who still thought I wanted to be white, and increasingly the target of disdain from my white counterparts, who liked me all right – mostly because as more than one told me, “you aren’t like other black people”}

Sad, but true, I have had statistically similar experiences with Ms. Brittney Cooper, author of The politics of being friends with white people.

I came across this article through my best friend, Julie. I don’t know what prompted Ms. Cooper to write it, I’m not quite sure what she is advocating as a solution, or if she is even advocating for one. Perhaps she just wanted to publicly explain why she is on one side of the line versus the other. In either case, the article, her experiences, her conclusions – all affected me.

What immediately resonated was how strikingly similar our experiences were, despite the fact that we attended very different schools and had different upbringing. As an honor student in a predominantly minority school, I was ostracized and teased for being “too proper” or “too white” in my speech and behavior. My only school friends comprised of the small multi-ethnic group of students in my honors and AP classes. All the other students either attempted to use me or abuse me. Looking back, I guess we bonded because we knew we were in a sea of disapproving strangers.

And I can still remember the vast hole I felt when my English Composition I professor (of my predominantly white college) instructed us to select partners and all the white students seated near me turned away. I spent most of my high school and college years battling depression because of experiences like these. And when I wasn’t despondent, I was angry. I had something to prove… In every English class thereafter, I wanted every white student to regret not having me as a partner.

Of course, not all experiences were so catastrophic. There were plenty of the “shaking my head” in disbelief moments when a stranger’s fingers were inexplicably in my hair; or the awe in how soft my skin is; or the shock at my lack of knowledge of a new hip-hop craze; or the assumption that if a big Black guy shows up, he must be looking for me; or the names like “Oreo” or “coconut” to imply that I wasn’t “really Black”. But, no matter how laughable, throughout my life the lines have always been clearly delineated. On the Black side, I was never accepted. I’m of Haitian descent. My color was never enough to make me one of them. I was too Haitian for Americans and too American for Haitians. On the White side, my color, my hair, my culture, they were all far too much to take in.

Sad, but true, I still have to deal with these experiences. I understand Ms. Cooper’s frustrations, and I too am tired. I am tired of battling the assumption that I’m a democrat because of my skin color; I’m actually independent because I believe we should demand better than the lesser of two evils. I’m tired of being underrepresented, or misrepresented, or just the token. Yet, despite our similarities, what struck me the most, however, was how different our conclusions are, Ms. Cooper and me. Using a myriad of personal experiences to explain, she concludes:

Maintaining integrated friendships past a certain age is more struggle than triumph…. [and] since leaving high school, I have not had many nor actively sought opportunities to make friends with white people…. When you are 9, or 12, or 17, it is easy to overlook racist comments…. At 25 or 32, it is harder to overlook the inevitable racially ignorant comment that will come, especially when you have had access to friendships where this is never an issue.

I am racially ignorant. I have no clue about how to maintain white hair – it seems fairly simple from this side, but apparently it requires constant touching and manipulating. I don’t know what it’s like to be plagued by white guilt; or to be hated for “stealing our good men”; or to have to prove I’m not a sheet-wearing bigot. Neither do I know what it’s like for the world to assume that all I’m good for is maintaining the lawns. Or that I’m secretly building explosives. Or that my parents own a nail salon. God, I would hate to be the one Asian kid who is bad at math! I do, however, know what it’s like to experience hate, and fear… and I know I don’t enjoy either.

You see, somewhere along the way, I learned to see the Blind side. I realized that we are all blissfully ignorant of one another. And racism, for me, is choosing to stay in our ignorance, preferring it over learning about the person on the other side. I learned that by being friends with other people. I am not afraid to say that I have a very racially charged relationship with my best friend. How could we openly talk about everything if we didn’t admit our ignorance of one another? She now knows not to touch any black person’s hair without asking and to keep all comments from being asinine. I now know how to shop every store like a white woman. We could both be honest and hurt about situations like Ferguson. She is more readily introduce me to a hip-hop artist. I am more likely to introduce her to an American Classic. It was in the knowing, in the awkward politics, in the sometimes intense but always curious conversations that we realized we are not the world’s stereotype of us.

Although Ms. Cooper acknowledges that “interracial friendships, especially in adulthood, require a level of risk and vulnerability that many of us would rather simply not deal with. And that is perhaps one of racism’s biggest casualties“, she seemed to have determined that she is not willing to take the risk. Her decision saddens me. I have found that the risk is the best part of getting to know someone who wants to understand you as much as you seek to understand her. If we simply give up because it’s complicated then we will all indeed suffer great casualties.

~that’s life… in no particular order

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3 thoughts on “The Blind Side

  1. As a Jamaican immigrant to th states, I resonate so much with your story Danne and I am in total agreement with the path you have chosen. It is not easy but relationships of any kind (even with those who share our race or ethnicity) carry great risk when we choose to be vulnerable so I believe all of life then, is about deciding how much relational payoff we are willing to pursue. Thanks for voicing the sentiments of a growing segment of our culture. Definitely sharing!

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