Monday, December 15, 2014

Sociology Paper

I was in kindergarten.  I was telling my mother about a good friend of mine, a boy named Quincy that I enjoyed hanging out with.  She asked me what he looked like.  I described dark curly hair, cut close to his scalp and dark eyes.  My mom assumed he was white.  Imagine her surprise when she realized he was black.
Fifth grade is the transition period.  Before fifth grade everyone was the same to me.  Sure, I saw people’s skin colors, but I didn’t find it mattered - not nearly as much as eyes and hair and especially personality.  Now one of the first things I say about people is determine if they’re not-white.  And when they’re white I leave that aspect out.
Well, let me be clear - I do my absolute best to leave out skin color.  I will describe hair, eyes, the clothes they wore that day, their body type, everything except skin color.  I struggle and strain to push it to the back of my mind, to mimic the way I thought of the world beforehand.  To not be colorblind, but to not care because ultimately they’re people and that’s what matters.
I don’t remember what triggered the change.  I just remember one day it wasn’t important, and the next it was.  It was sudden, abrupt, probably triggered by an adult’s inconsiderate comment or something I’d read (I’ve always been an avid reader, both of books and online articles and stories).  I don’t remember the specific event.  But one day, lined up in front of the door, I looked at someone with darker skin than me - I believe he was from India, but I may be wrong.  His name started with an ‘H’ but I can’t really remember it - and thinking “he is different.”  This was a friend of mine.
It was sudden, startling, and something that let me put race on the sidelines.  I’ve struggled with recognizing race.  When I was younger - yes, in fifth grade - I thought my dad was Mexican because I’d never seen someone who was ethnically ‘white’ with as dark skin as he had; additionally, he’s COVERED in dark hair that makes it hard to pinpoint the actual color of his skin.
This, when I recognized his mother - my Gramma J - as being white.  I attribute it to how little race has played a role until sophomore year in my life.  Even in ninth grade I didn’t truly understand discrimination; it pissed me off like nothing else, but race didn’t matter to me.  Personality did.
The media, in my eyes, has always demeaned blacks.  Both subtly and not so subtly.  Mexicans, or maybe just those who spoke Spanish, as well.  But other minorities?  I find that they have smaller issues, less issues with stereotyping and the like.  It’s there, but certainly not as extreme as it could be.
A subtle way of demeaning blacks: Kanye West, in and of himself, with his inappropriate behavior and the way he treats his fans and other people.  He’s embarrassing, and his popularity - to me - speaks leaps and bounds of how blacks view themselves: as lesser, as socially deviant, as people who are not as worthy or deserving as someone else.
A not-so-subtle way of demeaning blacks: featuring a racist bigot on TV.
But  most of the modern-day racism is subtle.  It comes with comments that, to me, imply that blacks cannot defend themselves, that they are not able to look beyond the past.  And so on.  As race plays a bigger and bigger factor, I get angrier and angrier.
And further still are the things I don’t talk about.  The things that are me.  The fact that I have been discriminated against because I am white.  It is sad.  I have been told my problems don’t count and to butt out.  I have been called racist for saying “I’d rather not be called that” when people use the word ‘cracker’.  I have been told that I am unworthy of being with anyone but other whites.
Exhibit A: Someone in the halls yells “‘Sup N---a!” to their friend, and then, “Yo Cracka!” to me.  I say “Yo,” but am uncomfortable by the language and nicknames used.  “I don’t appreciate being called ‘cracker’,” I say, not wanting to approach the topic of the n-word since that’s a definite ‘racist’ comment.  He calls me racist and turns away, disgusted.
Example: I am telling someone of how I’d been excluded from a group on basis of the fact I’m white.  I tell them that this group doesn’t want anyone white in it, how it is an exclusive group based on race and even though I wanted to make friends with some of the people in it I was told to leave and go away.  “You’re too white to be here.”  The person snorts and says “That’s me every day.  You’re so self-righteous because you’re white.  That doesn’t count.  It’s not racism, it’s self-defense.”
Racism is racism, no matter the colors involved.  No matter what your skin tone is.  No matter what you look like.
The most interesting thing of all of this is that I have never felt like a majority.  I have felt like someone who is left out.  I’ve never had the distinct feeling of belonging outside of groups I host.  I feel left out of classes, conversations, partners.  Perhaps the only time I feel like I fit is at lunch, when I sit with good friends; at my recent party, when I invited several of my friend groups; when I am not alone and quiet and not appreciated or even wanted.  I have felt like a minority, but a majority?  Never.  Only like I’ve belonged, in groups that are few and far between.
Could I leave out mentions of race and ethnicity?  Possibly.  I wouldn’t miss anything.  The only thing that would be missing would be the fact that once upon a time I was blind to race, and I was blind for a long time, and race still doesn’t matter that much to me.
The worst thing, I think, is the stereotypes.  Nobody can escape them, no matter what group they identify with - mainstream, subculture, whatever ethnic groups...  I mean, heck, there’s stereotypes for everyone.  And the most horrible thing about stereotypes is that people fulfill them.  They see these stereotypes in movies and on TV, read about them in books and see them with celebrities.  Some stereotypes, like a close-knit black community, aren’t as bad as others.  But they’re there and it seems like nobody’s willing to change them.
Race has played little in my life.  I’ve always valued personality far above someone’s appearances.  But to deny that it hasn’t mattered at all is foolish.  Unfortunately, people are caught up on ethnicity.  And as long as they are, we can’t get rid of racism, both subtle and obvious.  Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream [where we are] not judged for the color of [our] skin, but for the content of [our] character.”  Character will never matter as long as race does.

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