Today’s guest post is from one of my newer internet friends. She is a single mama, like me. She also reminds me of myself about a decade and more ago when I started trying to really understand racism. She is Only-Mama, a blogger, a single mom, but most importantly, a deep thinker who acknowledges her lack of understanding and wants to change that in herself. I love this post because I can relate to it on many levels, on both sides of the coin, and I appreciate her taking the time to guest post for me a second time on the topic of race.
I am a white woman, primarily raised around white people. I have always considered myself to be as non-racist as possible, given my isolation from other races. In my heart, I believe I don’t judge others based on color, and I think I manage to avoid believing or perpetuating stereotypes. But sometimes I get it wrong, and my first clue is the awkward silence.
When you are a white girl like me, you say stupid things on occasion without realizing why you just said the wrong thing. For example, I had a coworker whose daughter was pregnant the same time that I was, so we talked a lot about pregnancy and infants during coffee break. One day she showed me a picture of her adorable grandbaby.
NEW GRANDMA: Isn’t she the cutest little ewok?
(baby girl has curly hair up in two round puffy ponytails on top of her head. Absolutely adorable!)
ME: She is absolutely adorable!
Later that week, grandma, me and a white coworker were looking at pictures.
ME to white coworker: Isn’t she the cutest little ewok?
NEW GRANDMA: deafening silence.
Apparently white people can’t call black babies ewoks to other white people. I wasn’t trying to be dehumanizing, I was just using her word. I didn’t know that I didn’t have a right to use it.
I had a longer discussion with a different black coworker about calling black kids monkeys.
TEE: And so WHITE FRIEND came up to me at Target and my kids were hanging off the sides of my grocery cart, and can you believe she called them monkeys?
ME: But what is wrong with that? I call my own kids monkeys all the time!
TEE: But you can’t call a black kid a monkey!
ME: But they were hanging off the cart like monkeys!
TEE: I can call them monkeys, but white people can’t.
ME: But isn’t it racist that white kids can be monkeys and black kids can’t?
TEE: Porch monkey? Hello?
(A porch monkey is a derogatory term meaning that the person is lazy. Laziness is a negative stereotype often attributed to black people.)
I had honestly never thought of that. I was glad that Tee had told her story and was willing to spell it out for me. I learned more than if she had just gone with awkward silence.
There are other negative stereotypes that are good enough reasons why black children shouldn’t be called monkeys. For a white kid, it’s not a big deal because they don’t have the background of stereotypes depicting their ancestors as sub-humans, lazy, and ignorant. But black children do, and should never be called a monkey
Now, you may think it is ridiculous that a white person would even think to call a black kid a monkey, but we don’t always think in terms of racism. If my kid is a monkey, and your kid can’t be a monkey, that’s a racial division I don’t always think of. (This is a sign of white privilege.)
Insensitivity, sure. Wrong, yes. But when you become friends with someone you don’t always remember to be sensitive, and words come out and fall on the floor with a thud met by silence.
Time and again I have put my foot in my mouth and have had no clue until I am hit by the awkward silence, and I really don’t want to be offensive. I need someone to clue me in. I don’t know how to ask for this though. When I am shown my ignorance, I don’t know how to bridge the divide my words have just made, and I really want to.
Maybe next time, instead of changing the subject, I can have the guts to say, “Wow, I obviously said something wrong! I’m sorry.” And maybe whomever I am speaking to will have the generosity to tell me why my words hurt. I want to be better, I just need a little help growing.
Only-Mama is primarily a single parenting blog where I try to examine my moments of failure as well as my successes and don’t talk about being single as much as I intended. I am occasionally deep and insightful, more often light-hearted and irrelevant, and I have a propensity to discuss my underwear more than is appropriate. Thanks toMomsoap for allowing me an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone.