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my races and class

marybellefrey's picture

I came to my neighborhood Internet shop this morning to look at the class notes and found that someone had made a blog for me and that someone had asked what I meant by my races.  I had convinced myself that my situation was so peculiar that it was irrelevant.  But perhaps not.

I first thought seriously about race last year.  (I had been winging it earlier.)  A new edition of the Alumnae/i Directory was in the works and we were asked to make our entries current.  I have never responded to items about race or religion.  So my surprise and annoyance to find that I am "white" in the directory!  I wrote the Alumnae Association a humorous note asking where I belonged.  Silence!!  When I sent my annual gift, I was inclined to ask again.  Then it occurred to me that if I got my own head straight, I probably would not want their opinion.  First of all the possible iitems were ridiculous:  "white", "African-American", "Native American are the three I remember.  I, for instance, am blindingly white, but certainly NOT 'white'. My next gripe is an old fogey's gripe against the inevitable changes in language:  all the people born in North, South, and Central America are native Americans; I want something with more snap in it than Native American.  Next:  African-American a RACE?  The people called 'black' in the U.S. are more 'white' than black.  (I can't resist making fun; "hay que reir, por no llorar.")  A statistician assures me that the 'black' community in the U.S. is by now more Caucasian than African.  There has been no input of African genes into the community since early in the 19th century and constant dilution by Caucasian.  We know that Caucasian men have been doing mostof the dilution.  But I have been surprised in autobiographies by 'black' people of the number of white grandmothers.

About that time someone donated to our local  library a number of books relating to 'black' American history.  One book was about the problems relating to black identity for a middle-class 'black' man.  The photograph on the cover showed a man just barely recognizable as 'black'.  One of his problems was how to give his children a sense of 'black identity' when they lived and went to school among 'whites' and had a 'white' mother ---- ( my addition: and their father just faintly 'black').  'Black America' has the same problem I have:  races, not race.  And Asian-Caucasian mixed-blood people, too.  Do we love the one and hate the other?  Do we love only the best of both (and shove the unloved bits into the dark)?  Ihave no answers.  But I am no longer winging it.                                       -----------------------------------------------------  (continued tomorrow)


npalacios's picture

(alas) a quick comment

I can only quickly comment which is unfortunate because this is something that deserves more than just a quick thought.

I suppose that I'm having a hard time understanding where you're coming from because I've been taught about race being a social construct instead of a biological category. Of course there are gene differences but (at least from what I remember from my anthro 101 class a *while* ago...) there seems to be more genetic variation within a group of people than between separate groups of people. Race only has power in our society because of the systems in place that reward one person's color over another. So to say that black people are more "white" than white's not making sense for me.

And as far as "racial" categories much weight can we really give them? They change as years pass (for example people from Southern Europe/Ireland were once not considered to be white but now that's not the case). Would amerindian suit your tastes more than Native American? Psh, the labeling "american" is even wrong...the name of america was given by a German mapmaker in error because he thought that Vespucci had discovered the New World instead of Columbus! Again, just some things I'm thinking.

Last thing: I am a woman of color that has the same problem as you --I look white. I understand where you're coming from in a sense because there have been times where I have been rejected by white people and by my fellow Latinos. I guess the point that I'm at right now with all that is that I don't care what they think...I know who I am and I don't need other people to affirm who I am. Perhaps because I still have other Latino "characteristics" (ie speaking Spanish, lots of ties to the homeland, identification with parts of the culture, etc) it makes it easier. Also it's prob. easier because Latinos in general come in all shades (though not all shades are made equal for sure)...I suppose I'm wondering why you're bothered by the way you look.

 Like I said, just some thoughts that are floating around...hope to hear from you soon.


marybellefrey's picture

after some reflection, a second reply

First:   I have never been rejected or experienced discrimination, not even as a woman.  You see: this is my personal problem(s).

Second:   I owe all readers an apology.  Your taking seriously my comments about definitions of names of groups in the US confused me.  It was all said as a joke --- ridicule would be more accurate.  BUT I have lived outside the US for thirty years.  I really do not know what the actuallity of life in the US is.  Therefore, I have no right (nor basis) for criticism, much less ridicule.  I certainly would not go to Venezuela, for example, and ridicule customs there.  But because the US is my country, I forget that I am really a stranger there.  So much for the apology.  What I see when I look at current customs related to race in the US frightens me --- like Kaufman's fear.  I hear, "There are people of pure blood;  there are people of tainted blood (whether tainted pure blood or inferior blood)"   And what my gut understands is "There are Nazis and non-Nazis" and I am already trembling as I write those words.  I hope that my gut is overreacting.  Time will tell.  My apologies.  

marybellefrey's picture

my looks

..why am I bothered by my looks:  When young, I was bothered because they attracted attention and I'm rather shy and private.  But also because they had nothing to do with what I called my Real Self.  I was willing to accept that what I did might have something to do with my sense of self, but not what I was born with ---  I cannot defend this; I'm only describing it.

Now that I live among brown people I am way the ugliest person I know.  A friend says this is a 'complejo' and I do not deny it; but the fact remains to my painter's eye white is ugly, and I hate the pink colors of my skin (though anyone can see that the many colors of my skin and freckles are the colors that I most love in clothes, flowers, decoration, etc.  My friend is right about the 'complejo'.  I can laugh at myself and am laughing right now.  Still I cringe when I see people who look like me.)  It is much more complex than envy.  In respect for your sincerity I am going to guess that it has to do with my problems incorporating the unloved into my identity --- which I hope to include in my blog later.  My life deals with me via irony because I do love a good laugh.  I hate my current colors even more than my former ones --- so I understand my life to be saying that I won't be allowed to forget this and/or tuck it out of sight.  It is relevant that I have backed off from posting my problems with races and have been led or pushed into doing this blog.  For me that is the magic of Guatemala: life is so dense here and has such long threads to bring to me what I need the very day and hour I need it. 

Naming a race or deciding who fits into the category is of no interest to me.  But again my life presented me with a problem via the Alumnae Directory.  I am happy with indigenous American.  The definition of races in the US is a political question and someone at BMC knows what the gov't guidelines are.  But my inquiry was not answered, drawing me into looking at myself more closely.

Thank you for your reply.  Evidence that someone has read my blog makes me feel more exposed and I like that.