Tuesday, August 6, 2013

(Unintentionally?) Racist things my classmates said this summer.

Though I started writing this post in June, I hesitated about whether I wanted to publish it or not. But once I returned to the States, realized I wasn't in a dream anymore, and really started reflecting on things that happened to me while I was in Japan, I felt like it was necessary for me to put this out. One of the reasons I started this blog was so that I could learn to be more honest about my thoughts and feelings. Therefore, this is an honest experience that I must share.

Most of the students at JCMU were white. I can only speak for myself, but it's been my experience that most white people don't tend to be very conscious of their ignorance, nor of the underlying meanings of the words they say. (Granted, this can be said of all people to some extent, but for the sake of this post we'll just stick to white people for now.) I offer the following conversations as prime examples.

June 3rd
Male classmate C: For your sake, I hope your host family's not afraid of black people.

Me (thinking): Right, since I'm black, it naturally follows that people would be afraid of me. Because black people are just soooo scary. And what do you mean "for my sake"? What would you know about it? You don't know me, and you certainly couldn't care less about any struggles I might have because of my race. Shut up. Don't patronize me.
Me (out loud):   ...Uh thanks....

My Roommate M: Well you're not even going to have to worry about that. Come on, you're basically white. You know what I mean.

So... quiet + motivated + respectful + considerate + speaks "proper" English +intelligent + disciplined = not black = white. Whatever. Is that supposed to be a compliment? You don't even realize how much of an insult that is. "I know you're black, but you don't act like other black people, the real black people, the bad black people, the scary black people. Of course they'll like you, because you're basically white, which is better isn't it?" Listen. Just because, by coincidence, I happen to be more accessible to you than other black people are, that doesn't make me any less black and certainly doesn't mean you know what I'm about. I don't need your approval and I certainly don't want your honorary "white" card. That stupid thing would be useless anyway, because everyday I wake up, I'm black. Proudly, beautifully and unchangeably black. In case you hadn't noticed.

June 7th

Half-Indian female classmate: I'm studying biology and international relations.

My roommate M: Wow, you must be smart.

Half-Indian female classmate: Haha, not really. Try telling that to my parents.

My roommate M: Of course you're smart. It's in your genes.

I don't even need to explain how this is wrong, now do I?

June 21st

Me: I'm excited about visiting an elementary school, but I'll be with 5th and 6th graders. Hopefully they won't be as evil as American middle schoolers can be.

Male classmate E: Well, they'll probably be afraid of you anyway, so I don't think you'll have to worry about that.

Oh really? You're just going to insult two entire ethnic peoples like that? First it's the whole "You're black and black people are scary, so naturally people would be afraid of you" BS. Then it's the "Most Japanese people haven't met a black person before, so they couldn't possibly have the human capacity to treat you with respect or try to get along with you. Besides, they'd be too shocked and scared" BS. You sir, have no idea what you're talking about.

Please know that the three people quoted above are probably good people. I say "probably" because I never got to know them enough to know for sure. I only have these three instances to write about because by the 2nd or 3rd week over there I realized that I wasn't interested in getting to know most of my fellow students on any level, and I kept my distance. This wasn't strictly because they were white. Although, I will admit that being in college has decreased my patience for dealing with white people, and sometimes that leads me to count them out before giving them a chance. I'm struggling to correct this, so please bear with me.

Also, I don't know these young people enough to call them racist, however one might define the term. But even "non-racist" people can say racist things and have racist thoughts.  I write all of this not to attack these three individuals, but to give examples of wrong things that white people often say and don't realize are wrong. And whether they meant it that way or not, what these three said was wrong.

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