Tag Archives: racism

Too black?!

As much as I bitch about Americans and how narrow-minded they can be, I do think that Europeans have things a helluva lot easier when it comes to dealing with different cultures and races. Most Europeans (unless we grew up in a major city) are just not used to dealing with people who look and act differently from us….because we don’t have to! Obviously I know that things are changing, but for the most part many of us live in societies that are still mainly white. This was, at least, the case for me when I was growing up. There were a couple of kids of Pakistani origin in my classes and that was about it throughout my entire time in school!. Oh, I nearly forgot – when I was in my final year of primary school, there was a little black girl in Primary 1, who was an object of some fascination to everybody because, well, there just are no black people in my country. According to Wikipedia, only 0.16% of the population is black!

When I imagine what it must be like to be a teacher in “the motherland”, it seems that it would be fairly easy compared to being a teacher in the US. If you’re a teacher here, there are a million different issues to deal with in the classroom…in terms of race, culture and language. There are probably schools back home where these are factors, too, but I don’t think to such a great extent.

Take today for example…

Today I had my first ever volunteer session in a local elementary school. The idea is for several volunteers to meet once a week with a class of 2nd graders (for non-American readers, this means kids around seven years old) and spend forty-five minutes reading to them in groups with around two to four students.

I didn’t read to my kids today (two little Latinas) but just spent some time getting to know them. I have zero experience with such young children, so I was wondering how our time together would go. For the most part, it was quite fun, like when one of the girls pointed to a map, and showed me the town where her uncle lived, then whispered conspiratorially “He’s in jail!”.

When I was in my awful alternative teacher certification course, they taught us that the most important thing to do first in the classroom is to introduce your behavioural expectations. If they don’t do that, they say, all hell will break loose, and you’ll have a hard time getting your students back on track. Of course, this was exactly what I didn’t do! This was partly because those little girls just looked so damn cute that I didn’t want to come in and be all strict with them. It was also, I admit, because I was just a little flustered in the beginning and forgot! Big mistake! One of the little girls talked a mile a minute and was up out of her seat any chance she got. Oh well. You live; you learn. Next week I’ll outline my expectations…like no talking over me or your classmate; no saying you can’t do things when you can do them perfectly well; no getting out of your seat without asking permission etc.

Another reason why it would have been good for me to have outlined my expectations was because it would have been easier for me to stop the girls chatting aimlessly, and focus more on the matter at hand. At one point, Miss Chatterbox overheard someone in another group mention the word “Obama”. She then went on to tell me how her friend wrote a letter to President Obama in her journal, telling him how much she liked him. I asked her if she liked the president, and she said, quite forcefully, that she most certainly did not. “Ah ha”, I thought. “Clearly someone’s parents are Republicans”.

The talk then turned to Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, which was natural enough given that they’re close in age to my students. This was when it all went a bit pear-shaped, though. Miss Chatterbox (who proved herself to be a right little opinionated so-and-so) declared that she didn’t like Obama’s daughters either. I asked her why and she said she thought they were ugly. At this point, you’d have thought I might have guessed the direction the conversation was going but, no, I blundered on and asked “Oh, really? I find them really pretty. Why do you think they’re ugly?” Miss Chatterbox screwed up her face and said “Well, their hair is OK but their faces….yuk! They’re too black!” Hmmm, guess whose parents are racist?!


I can’t say that I was exactly surprised by this confession but, to be honest, I just wasn’t expecting it on Day One. I wanted to point out that such a comment could really hurt somebody’s feelings and that all skin colors are beautiful, but I didn’t feel comfortable saying this to child I’d just met. I didn’t feel that I’d quite earned that right. I didn’t let it go entirely (I said something like “Well, hmmm, I think they’re very pretty” and then I just quickly moved on) but I felt bad for not addressing it more.

When I first encountered racism between minority groups, I must say that I was a bit surprised. I really expected Latinos and African-Americans to be “brothers and sisters” against oppression but this is apparently not the case. In fact, inter-minority racism is as old as the hills in the US. Check out this extract from the following text (written in 1808 but dealing with life in pre-Revolutionary Upstate New York). The author, Anne Grant, a Scottish-American is writing about the Native American view of slaves:

“It is a singular circumstance, that though they saw the negroes in every respectable family not only treated with humanity, but cherished with parental kindness*, they always regarded them with contempt and dislike, as an inferior race, and would have no communication with them” (Memoirs of An American Lady, with Sketches of Manners and Scenes in America that Existed Previous to the Revolution).

Sigh. Sometimes I think it would be easier to move back to the “motherland” where I wouldn’t have to deal with race issues…just people who are pasty and unattractive!

* “Treated with humanity”? “Cherished with parental kindness”? Yup, Mrs. Anne Grant is an apologist for slavery alright!


Why have some Americans led such a sheltered existence?!

ghettoYup, it’s that time again. It’s time for me to make huge, sweeping generalizations about Americans.

In my defence, I should say that this is now post 38, and this is the first time (I think) I’ve bitched about Americans. This is good going compared to the last blog!

I just had a “NCNS”, which is the abbreviation for “No Call No Show” i.e. sex industry terminology for an asshole client who stands you up. Technically speaking, this particular asshole was only a “NS”, as he did finally deign to email me one hour after the session was due to start to tell me why he didn’t show up. I don’t know why he didn’t answer my calls, or let me know sooner. In the words of nearly every character on “Deadwood”: Cocksucker!

Anyway, here’s his pathetic excuse of an apology letter:

Wow – your area of town was just too spooky (dangerous-looking) for me. Sorry. I was really looking forward to our session.

I get really annoyed at such excuses because they are, for me at least, just another way of insinuating that all working class, African-Americans are going to rob, rape or murder you. Long before I ever moved to this area of town, it apparently was really dangerous for a white person to come over here but now? Jesus, you can’t avoid having your eyes assaulted by all the white yuppies who’re moving in and the nasty montrosities they build – which do not fit in aesthetically with the neighbourhood at all.

It’s true that only one block away there is a corner where’ll you find pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers, but turn another corner, and you’ll find a whole street of white yuppies. This neighbourhood obviously still has its gritty side, but by no stretch of the imagination can you call it “the ghetto”. It seems to me that only a very sheltered white person who has never been exposed to someone of a different social class, or race, could call it that.

That’s what puzzles me about the US. On the one hand, it is such a wonderfully diverse country (and I love, love, looooove this about it…in fact, it would be weird and boring to move back to “the motherland” for this very reason) but, on the other, you have all these people who’ve grown up here who just seem entirely clueless about how the other half lives. I just don’t get it.

When I was training to be a teacher, a fellow student of mine used to give me a ride home, and we actually became quite good friends over the months despite the fact that she was a self-confessed “Conservative Christian”! One time we were sitting in her car, chatting, with the window rolled down, when she saw a black guy walking past on the other side of the street. Damn, she couldn’t have rolled that bloody window up fast enough! I don’t know what she thought he was going to do, but he just walked on past, minding his own business, as I’m sure he was intending to all along.

She was convinced that I was about to be raped and murdered any second by a black man if I stayed in this part of town, and she said it reassured her that I had a big dog to look after me! This woman would confess to me that her greatest fear was being placed in a high needs school with a lot of minority children because she “just wouldn’t know how to relate to those people“. I actually found this woman’s attitudes funny because, well, I’m used to hanging around with liberal types who are probably racist in their own way, but who would just never admit it to themselves or others. It was refreshingly honest to hear somebody admit outright that they have prejudices and fears about other races. Also, this woman was a good person, deep down, so I couldn’t really fault her for fearing something to which she’d just never been exposed. Once she’s a teacher, I genuinely don’t believe she’ll discriminate against someone from another race/social class. She probably won’t understand their specific learning needs, but she wouldn’t intentionally try to screw them over.

Despite this, though, I just couldn’t help but think…Were you never curious about African-Americans? Did you never want to come over to this part of town to see what life was like here?

I don’t mean to glorify poverty, but I always want to live in a neighbourhood that’s slightly down-at-heel and working-class. Life in this part of town is big, glorious and messy, and I couldn’t imagine living in one of those weird, sterile suburbs middle-class people here seem to prefer. At Christmas time, I visited Midwestern Man’s family in their (yup, you’ve guessed it) Midwestern suburb, and I was bored out of my mind! There’s never anybody on the street, the lawns are always perfectly manicured….nothing ever happens!

The funny thing is that there’s probably loads happening inside…at least the fucked-up parts of this neighbourhood are out in the open for everybody to see. In those suburbs, though, you never see anything but how many women are getting beaten up behind those closed doors? How many alcoholics are they? How many sleazy fathers touching their wee girls? How many alienated, disturbed teenagers?

Are my dogs racist?

Simon-4 When I met the woman from Montréal a couple of weeks ago, I was amused when she asked me if my dogs were racist, too. I was amused because it was refreshing for a “person of colour” (God, I hate that term but it’s a convenient way to describe someone of indeterminate racial origin) to bring up race so openly with a white person she’d only just met. If she’d been African-American and I’d been a white American, I don’t think the topic would have arisen so casually.

A black friend of mine from St Vincent, in the Caribbean, was the first person to point out that my dogs barked far more at the African-Americans in my neighbourhood than at the white people. She was half-joking, half-serious, but I dimissed her comment because I just didn’t think it was possible for an animal to be able to distinguish race.

However, I remembered what my friend had said, and I soon began to notice that, yes, oh my God, my dogs do bark far more at African-Americans than at white people! At first I thought it was just coincidence, but then it kept happening again, and again, and again.

Just today Midwestern Man was telling me about how he spent hours sitting outside a café with his own dog, a chow mix, and he didn’t bark at any of the people going in and out..until a black couple showed up, and all hell broke loose. My dogs are exactly the same.

I find this quite embarrassing because I’m a white woman living in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood, which used to be mainly African-American. I feel bad that African-Americans are not only being priced out of the area by white people, but that our dogs are making them feel unwelcome in their own part of town, too! Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but every time my dogs bark at black people I can’t help but think of slavery and the white slave owners who sent dogs off to chase after the scent of escaped slaves.

I have no idea why my dogs appear to have such a dislike of African-Americans but I have several ideas. Could it be that I am uncomfortable around black people, and my dogs have unwittingly picked up on this? Hmmmm, I don’t think so because I purposely moved to this side of town to avoid middle class white Americans and, to be quite frank, I’m pissed off that more and more have followed me over. This place is becoming less diverse by the second, and I’d be pleased if my dogs would chase all the white yuppies away.

Or is that the African-Americans in this town who are nearly all working-class and have grown up in “the hood” have just been exposed to more crazy, dangerous dogs and have therefore learned to be more apprehensive? When I found my pit bull three years ago, I was quite happy to let her come up to me, and pet her with no fear whatsoever. I probably wouldn’t do that now because I’ve seen how many abused and neglected dogs there are on this side of town, and I’d want to make sure the dog was safe before it got too close. Is it possible that my dogs bark more at black people because they just sense the apprehension and fear they learned after years of being exposed to unstable dogs?

It could also be that our dogs (all of whom are so-called dangerous breeds and were strays) were once owned and abused by African-Americans when they were puppies, and now have a fear of them etched into their little doggy memories. I don’t mean to culturally stereotype young, working-class, African-American males, but it is sadly true that they can sometimes be very macho, and like to boost their own masculinity by owning powerful breeds of dogs. Unfortunately, they don’t always take care of their dogs as well as they should, and I’ve seen many living, neglected, in yards, or, worse still, cast out on the streets to fend for themselves.

Whatever the reason, it would be great if my dogs would stop barking at African-Americans as much as they do. Jesus, do I need to take them to doggy diversity training?!