I can tell a friendly face on sight. Some people are warm, open, ready to be anyone’s friend. They fail to be discriminating. And, if, after getting to know me, they decide they don’t like me, the disconnect is not based on race (or lack thereof.) They just don’t like me, personally. Your friend Kumari is not everyone’s cup of tea. That doesn’t bother me. I’m so used to people misliking me on the wrong reason being unfriended on my own steam is refreshing.
The History of Race
One could argue, and I do, that I don’t have a race because there is no organized group, no ghetto, no history, no subculture, no literary genre of half-caste people. What little there is – is sure to be mulatto or mestizo in nature, not the two races that blend to be me. In addition to being race-less I am clearly neither black nor white. (See photo above) I’ve been told I don’t look Asian. I’ve been asked how come I’m not Native American. I swear I don’t make this shit up.
For the record I self-identify as being Mid-Western. When the Mid-West wouldn’t have me (I grew up being asked where are you from? And what is your Nationality?) I fled to the 50th state. My English is fluent with the requisite broad “a’s” of a native Chicagoan. I lived for such a long time in the South Pacific that to this day many people still call me “Hawai’ian” although no local people would have thought me anything but Mainlander. That’s why I felt just right on O’ahu. People recognize me for what I am despite the color of my skin.
The State of Race Relations
I’ve met unbiased, unprejudiced, nonpartisan people. And the other type. The discriminators. Recently a friend asks me, “Why do people hate you?” Hate is a strong word. I mean I know people who hesitate to say “Hello.” I know they loathe to incorporate me into their conversations, but hate? Let’s call it “less than friendly” in lieu of “hate.” Their behavior falls more under the category of ignoring a problem until it (she) goes away than out and out intolerance.
A white friend apologizes for the “deplorables” behind their backs by saying they’re just uncomfortable, Kumari. I knew that. I can tell by the looks on their faces, the micro-tells. The stiff discomfort. The lack of eye-contract. The body language. The turning away. The lack of engagement. Their discomfort is overt. But hate? hmmmmm
I have had many, many revealing conversations with white people willing to explain to me why they don’t interact with colored co-workers/acquaintances/colleagues, that boil down to “I didn’t know what to say.” These admissions are generally spoken in a barely audible stutter, wide-eyed, leading me to believe that there is no conscious intention to be unfriendly. They honestly believe conversation is different when engaging with a person of color.
The Problem in a Nutshell
They apologetically avoid conversation with a person who represents “other” because they assume such a conversation would have to be materially different than conversation with a person who looks like them. It’s an easy mistake to make if one has never had a conversation with someone who is colored/black/foreign/ex-pat/transgender/homosexual. It’s easy to be cruel without meaning to be. It’s not hate driving the great divide so much as awkwardness. Getting out of the comfort zone.
Recently a white friend pointed out to me that “so-and-so” couldn’t possibly be bigoted because she has a Hispanic last name. Ok. So maybe “so-and-so” is married to a person of another “race” but that – that dear reader, doesn’t mean “so-and-so” didn’t display a noticeable reticence around me. Her immediate, yet well-mannered, reserve felt cold, unwelcoming and entirely based on my appearance. Which brings me to a point that probably only majority stake holders will mis-understand: there is no league of oppressed people.
League of oppressed people?
I mean, for example, Kumari might be ok with Bohemian Visigoths and still have a problem with red-tailed Atheists. Ergo, if you are a red-tailed Atheist you might sense some bigotry from me. If you subsequently complain to your partner/boss/relative or acquaintance about my cold shoulder, you probably wouldn’t be too happy to hear them say, “Kumari? Kumari can’t possibly be bigoted – she’s biracial!” The sad truth is Kumari could be bigoted, although she certainly tries hard not to be.
So you don’t know what to say?
A person of color can generally tell when questions, honest questions are coming from a good place. Better to ask than assume I’m related to the light skinned Northern Indians (I’m not) or the dark blue-black local Pakistanis (I’m not). One person who will never deign to ask has been mistaking me for Jeet for nearly six years. Read my blog “In the land of the face blind the 2 faced lady is queen” but I digress.
My point is, and I do have one, is: being ignorant isn’t the same thing as hating. Ignorance can be educated. I’m willing to give anyone open to learning a chance to change. It’s precariously easy to hurt people inadvertantly. There’s nothing you can do about that. But you can choose to be kind. What would choosing to be kind look like?
- Asking “Are you in line?”
- Saying “hello” with eye-contact
- Not texting while talking
- Shaking hands warmly, smiling genuinely
- Asking “May I help you?”
- Including everyone in the snow chain phone calls
- Allowing everyone to volunteer
I mean it doesn’t have to get radical like donating money, although in my case I am very, very grateful that kindness did get that far. After I was diagnosed with Cancer, bills mounted. In particular one very large uncovered MRI. I have been brilliantly blessed with support. Donations large and small poured in from people of every ilk. The above photo is from my latest treatment. I look tired, right? I mean Cancer can snap the stuffing out of a person. Believe it or not we’re all pretty unique inside. My treatment is designed precisely for me. I hope to be smiling again soon.
Let’s be careful out there.
Y’all play nice!