3

There’s a good reason some white girls say stupid things to black girls.

They have no idea it’s wrong.

How can this be?

It’s still possible, in 2012, to grow up in this country and never meet people who look different from you. You can live in an upper class suburb, where there might be a few blacks, some Asians and maybe a few Latinas. But, if they all dress the same as you, wear their hair the same way, speak the same way, do the same things you do, you’re still sheltered in ignorance.

White girls are part of the majority; considering the circumstances of others has never occurred to them because they have no idea there is an ‘other’.

Their ignorance isn’t mean spirited.

Not convinced?

Let me offer a non race-related personal example.

Background: I am/was a race and class conscious black female. One day during sophomore year of college, I was tearing down the hall to a class on a high floor in a building with an elevator. A female student in a wheelchair pulled up. I was looking at the numbers, minding my business. The elevator opened, two people got out, which meant there was enough room for me and someone else standing or the girl in the wheelchair alone. In those few seconds, I was thinking the following 20-year old thoughts:

”If I go first, I’ll be the jerk who cut in front of the handicapped girl in the wheelchair.”

“But I was here first.”

“Am I supposed to say something to her like, ‘It’s ok, you have it harder than I do, or something?’”

“But, come on. She already got to park right next to the building while I was out in the tundra and had to hike all the way here, so why should she get even more preferential treatment?”

“Isn’t there a special elevator for these people anyway?”

“I didn’t even know people in wheelchairs went to college.”

In the end, I chickened out and made like I had forgotten something, turned and left. Then I climbed the stairs, got out on a different floor and took the elevator to class.

Much later, when I realized that I was thinking of the disabled in the same way whites thought about me, I laughed out loud at myself.

Substitute black for person in wheelchair and you see exactly how this stuff happens.

Never in my life had I to consider the situation of those in wheelchairs prior to that moment. I didn’t have anti-wheelchair bound people feelings; I was 20 and annoyed that all of a sudden, I was inconvenienced by this situation. From then on, once I got a grip, I behaved like I had some home training, and when the situation arose, I’d suggested that we could make it if we all squeezed a little tighter.

That experience crystallized the impetus that drives white people to say some of the crazy things they say. It seems to be a combination of curiosity, an eagerness to learn, wanting to be friendly, and to understand, but not quite knowing how and feeling awkward as a result about making a mistake.

The difference between them and me is that I did have the sense to keep my thoughts to myself. I also did not subsequently try to strike up conversations with random wheelchair bound students solely to pump them for elevator etiquette tips. Nor did I corner anybody at the hairdresser, in the grocery store or any of other hundred places I’ve been caught out. When you’ve been through that enough, you know better.  

As far as having friends who say things like that to us as Ms. Ramsey does, we have to make our own decisions: do we take the time to educate them, tell them that there are certain topics we want them to avoid, ignore it, or let the relationship lapse?  

Also, let us remember, these are girls, not women. They have yet to acquire wisdom and knowledge that comes with growing up.  

When I saw the White Girls video, I cracked up. It’s funny. It seemed tailor-made for people like to whom ridiculous comments are made on practically a daily basis. This is a first for us unless I am mistaken. After years of being compared to a summer tan, of being the authority on All Things Black at school and at work and  hearing endless renditions of a perfect stranger’s one black friend back home story on airplanes, I needed that laugh.

Hell, I earned it.

2

 How Christmas was supposed to go

Kids wake up well after sun fully risen, open their stockings.

Parents get up, begin breakfast.Dad leaves to do chores.

Kids sit down to breakfast but first open a special present.

Dad goes to bring the black lab/boxer mix dog named Lucy who we adopted in secret three weeks ago to the house.

Kids, who are at home opening one dog-themed present each, are confused but silent as they open the first, then second presents.

A collar? one of them will say. Why are you giving me this?

A leash? another will inquire. What’s going on?

A rubber bone? the third will query. Why do I need this?

None of them will dare guess because there have been no signs that a dog is coming, no hints, no warning. We haven’t been talking about it, they have not been asking again for one.

Dad rolls into the driveway.

The kids are now talking to each other about what they got in their stockings and look out the dining room window casually to see dad pull up. They resume talking, drinking cocoa and eggnog. Dad comes in but he isn’t alone. In bounds a shiny black dog with a tag that says Lucy. At first, nobody moves. Mom and Dad are watching for reactions. Lucy, too is frozen for a moment. Then, everyone begins talking at once.

Oh my gosh!

I can’t believe it!

Is she ours?

Her name is Lucy.

This is awesome!

Where’s she been all this time?

Thanks, mom and dad!

So that’s what the presents were for!

Oh, now I get it!

——

How Christmas actually went

Kids wake up well after sun fully risen, open their stockings.

Parents get up, begin breakfast.Dad leaves to do chores.

Kids sit down to breakfast but first open a special present. Dad goes to bring the black lab/boxer mix dog named Lucy who we adopted in secret three weeks ago to the house.

Parker opens collar.

“Catherine’s cleaning the poop,” he says.

No one hears him, because he talks so much all the time, nobody pays attention to him. I am videotaping this, so I say loudly,

“Hey, Harry open yours!”

Harry opens his: a matching leash. He looks at Parker who has not stopped repeating his sentence.

“Catherine’s cleaning the poop, Catherine’s cleaning the poop,Catherine’s cleaning the poop,Catherine’s cleaning the poop.”

“Shut up, Parker,”  Harry says. “Mom, wait a minute. What is this for?”

“Let Scout open hers, ” I say.  Somehow Scout hasn’t heard Parker, thank god.

Harry says ” No way, I way asking for like three years. Tell the truth, Mom, what kind is it?”

Parker, “Catherine’s cleaning the poop.”

Harry,” Dude,shut up.”

Catherine opens the box with a dog brush and other dog stuff. She gets very excited.

“Catherine, you’re cleaning the poop,” Parker says.

Dad rolls into the driveway.

Catherine grabs the leash and the collar and goes out into the driveway to meet her new dog and Harry goes out, too.

He has no coat on, so he stays in the mudroom.

The cat comes into the mudroom from wherever it hangs out at night.

Harry steps out to greet the dog.

Cath hands him the leash, walks into mudroom, says hi to cat, gets ready to introduce him to the dog.

Harry walks the dog into the mudroom.

Dog sees cat, lunges barks like crazy which echoes in room with tiled floor.

 Cat sees the dog, freaks out completely.

Cat literally leaps to ceiling trying to get away.

Dog is barking with excitement. Cat is scrambling in terror.

Catherine is screaming to the cat to calm down and crying for Daddy to save the kitty. Doug is hollering at dog to ” Cut the shit!” 

 Harry is pulling leash with all his might, yelling “Holy crap! They hate each other already!”

Parker, who has not moved from the dining room table and who can see all this through the window into the mudroom, is laughing so hard, he is doubled over in spasms and tears are rolling down his face.

I get up and push stop on the video recorder.

Another Beaupre Christmas.

Do you celebrate Kwanzaa?

That is the question people ask you when you are the only black person around for miles and if they have ever even heard of Kwanzaa, which gets old quick.

Quick lesson on Kwanzaa from The Root.com, a terrific website centered around African-American concerns and Wikipedia for the uninformed:

Maulana Karenga, a  black nationalist and current chair of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966 as the first specifically African-American holiday. During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said that it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas, that Jesus was psychotic, and that Christianity was a white religion that black people should shun. However, as Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so that practicing Christians would not be alienated, then stating in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday.”

Here’s the thing.

My kids are swirls.

Years ago when it was just the two boys and they were little, I brought them to where black folks were often. My cousin, who is a black radical, invited me to a Kwanzaa celebration at a community center around her way. Problem was, a day or two before, a white person who wanted to attend was barred admittance. Then the local news sent another white person over with a crew  and they were asked to leave.This got a lot of cover because, really, what is there to talk about after Christmas besides sales? Nothing. 

So I mentioned this news item to my cousin, who is one of my best friends and who shoulda known better, ‘cuz I wanted to bring my whole family. (My boys were wild toddlers then; I went no place without back-up.)

 She says,” Hmmm..Well, that would be interesting. You could try it.”

I was like try it?

I didn’t want to be on tv if we were all thrown out for fighting.

I  not want the kids seeing their dad being excluded and, besides, what was he supposed to do the ‘hood while we are at the thing for two hours…he didnt need a haircut. (Inside balck joke, ask a friend to ‘splain.)

We didn’t go.

I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa.

Why? Because in America, we don’t make up holidays.

We have them to honor people who have died. Witness: MLK, jr, President’s Day, St. Patrick’s, Easter and Memorial Day

 Or to remember events where people died. Witness: Fourth of July and Labor Day( think sweatshops pre labor laws) 

We also commemorate love with Valentine’s, Mother’s/Father’s day and Thanksgiving

It can be argued that the latter are all hallmark holidays but they don’t exclude anyone- matter of fact, they go out of their way to try to create cards to sell to every one for the first three: for ‘a female caretaker’, for ‘a special male role model’. Thanksgiving was started yes, with the damn Pilgrims and marked the beginning of the end for native people, but it was a lady from New Hampshire named Sarah Josepha Hale who wrote Presidents for years trying to create a tradition to unite the country. Key word, unite.  Abraham Lincoln finally agreed at a time of great civil divide, so Thanksgiving could also fit under the heading of events when people died.

Back to me and my cousin.

She suggested I write to the creator of Kwanzaa and ask him all my questions. At the time, I did not know all that is explained in the opening paragraphs, so her suggestion confused me. Since when do we have access to people who create holidays?In America, holidays are associated with death. Meaning, you have to be dead to get one. The deader you are, the better your chances.

Right along with  holidays associated with death, people do not just go around making up random holidays. 

Lastly, as a Christian, I’m exhausted after Christmas. I am pageanted, advented, nativitied, shopped, baked, decorated, carolled and greeted out, ok? I got nothin’.

I actually think Kwanzaa would have had a better chance of lasting had it NOT been at the time it is, but with the original intent being as an alternative to Jesus, that wasn’t an option. (Spread Kwanzaa throughout black history month and ill-informed teachers would be less likely to talk about slavery so much or the ‘evergreens': Rosa, Martin, Thurgood, Carver and Cosby.)

 Most of the time, I just say no when asked whether I celebrate this event. But if the person persists, and if I think they will actually pay attention/understand while I explain my reasons, I’ll tell them. In the couple of times I’ve misjudged who to tell, which I know by their glazed eyes or the uncomfortable look on their faces like,’ Wow, lady, relax’, I think to myself, “Hey, you asked.” One of these days I’ll have the nerve to say it.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now

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