Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bleached of color

Inspired by a rant that I (probably somewhat inappropriately) went into at RenEv's place:

I hate the racial term white. I despise it with a passion I rarely feel toward anything with this intensity and for this long, though admittedly that's because it comes up every time I fill out a demographics form or whenever people decide they need to label me.

"You're white." "You're caucasian."

No, no I'm not.

I also dispise the terms Asian (Oriental) and Latino (Hispanic), but with less intensity. Both generalize way too much. The only context I don't despise Black in is with the disposessed in major countries like the USA, where the historical context and identity of some of our citizens was stripped from them by the ancestors of other of our citizens and ancestors of citizens of other countries and tribes. I can feel only compassion and helplessness for

I work with a lot of USians. Some of them have Chinese accents, some of them have Spanish as their first language, some of them have darker skin than I do, but they're all USian. I also work with Brazilians, Chinese, Indians, Saint Lucians, and other citizens of other countries. They are not USian, but that's ok. Some of them want to be, though.

I'm a USian. My ancestry is Celto-Germanic - specifically Scots-Welsh, Scots-Irish, German, and Danish. For those who haven't studied the history of the Scots, the Scots-[whatever] were Scots moved in as landowners and lords of the [whatever] place in order to bring said places under English rule. While there's a chance I have some actual Irish or Welsh in me, since I'm decended of a Princess who ran away with a stagecoach driver and the difference in class implies he was of the people native to the place she was ruling, I'm primarily Scot. I have the tartan and the migration pattern to prove it (Tartans as clan representatives is fairly modern, but my clan is one of the older ones to adopt a tartan).

I am not white. I don't remember a bleached piece of paper of the color code #ffffff on the internet. I'm kind of a peachy-yellow, the yellow coming from an ill-advised tanning attempt in my teenage years that left me looking jaudiced for years.

The term 'white' is a variable thing. It has, in the past, excluded the Irish and the Jews. It's main purpose was to divide two groups of the same general socio-economic status - indentured servants and slaves - during the early years of the colonial development of the Americas. It also came in handy to marginalize the natives of the Americas, since they weren't "white."

Having been born in the USA, I'd rather connect myself to Lame Deer (who was also born in the Americas) than half the yahoos who claim I'm the same color as they are. Not my choice, though; I may admire Lame Deer, but his descendants don't have to feel any sort of kinship to me.

I spent several years working with adults with mental illnesses. I taught classes on how to live, which even then I felt the irony of - me, a recent college graduate living with my parent in order to pay off my loans, lecturing people two to three times my age on life. What I had was education, not living, and so I gave them the benefit of that. The course that I had the most positive feedback on what my cultures course; we'd study aspects of different countries, reading about places most of us will never go. The exercise I enjoyed the most was the color one. We all sat around in the room and one by one said what our "color" was. Then, each person went around the room and said what they saw of everyone else. People started with "black" and "white", but soon were looking closer, and the "milk chocolate," and "cafe au lait" and "dark chocolate"s crept out. At the end, with the lists made on the board, everyone was sort of looking around at each other with new eyes, smiling a little foolishly. I think I grinned for days.

The exercise was inspired by a poem my High School French teacher gave us. He was from Haiti (I still pronounce the name of his country with a French accent, AY-at-ee), though he taught in both France and the USA. Wonderful man, M. D-. We were an advanced class, so he would bring us more unusual things to reach, like Le Petit Prince or this poem. In it, in French, it described the colors of the people in Haiti, from Blackberry to Caramel, and how delicious those colors were for the eyes as those tastes owuld have been for the mouth. It always stuck with me; it likely always will.

So no, I'm not "white". I will allow no labels to bleach me of my history and connections. I will not allow the ease of a label to blind me to the experiences, cultures, and lives of the people around me. The Chinese are not the Japanese. The !Tung are not the Yoruba. The Mayans are not the Iroquois. I find the differences between the accent of Saint Lucia and the accent of Trinidad charming and interesting, not confusing, and I wish for no labels to smooth them together as one.

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