what chocolate means

October 20, 2009 § 9 Comments

dirty lil girl

a pic of aza five minutes before we took her to preschool.  on her last day.

here’s the deal.  i wasnt going to write this post.  i hate explaining ‘why something is racist’ to folks.

but here is a question for y’all.  what do people of color get out stating that something is racist?  what do you imagine the pay off is for people of color?

because i can bet that if i call something racist 9 times out of 10 a white person near me will tell me through their words, their actions, or their silence that it wasnt ‘really’ racist.  like not racist racist.

i can bet that if i tell someone that something they did was racist.  9 times out of 10. that person will deny it and be offended that i said that such behaviour, words, images, etc. are racist.  if i insist that no. really. that is racist.  that person will tell me that i have anger issues.

this happens so often.  that i play games where i predict the next thing the ‘not racist’ person is going to say.  everybody needs a drinking game when talking to ‘not racist’s.

see, it happens to women of color a lot.  for generations.  it is so common to call woc angry when a white person disrespects a woman of color, and the woc questions that disrespect.  its been statistically proven poll after poll.  that white people are easily threatened by black and brown women’s critique.  that white folks in general have a disproportionate response to any perceived slight or critique by black and brown women.  and part of that disproportionate response is to call woc angry.  and not angry like the beautiful necessary anger.  in acknowledging their legitimate right to establish emotional, psychological, and social boundaries. (which is what anger is you know.  it is the emotional reaction to having one’s boundaries crossed.)  and stating clearly when those boundaries have been crossed.  but woc are called angry, as if anger is not just an emotion, but is fundamental or essential to their way of operating in the world.

this is the image that we hold of woc.  that if a woc disagrees.  she must be an angry person.  like she needs therapy or something. it is such a tired stereotype that still seems to work in delegitimizing the words and experiences of the woc.

part of me thinks.  that we as woc are angry because  our boundaries are disrespected so often.  and so we are constantly having to re establish the space in which we are loved and respected and we are allowed to reciprocate.  the emotional content of that re establishing space is called. anger.

so you see there is a huge social cost everytime i decide to say something was racist (or sexist or classist).  i have to weigh it everytime.  against the reaction of. oh you are an angry person and thus everything you say is easily dismissed.  because i know that is going to be most white folks the response.

and yet woc time and time again speak their truth.  even though they know they will be disrespected, dismissed, silenced, belittled.  why?

i am trying here to show the obvious.  that calling someone a racist does not give the woc power.  in reality it becomes one more tool that is shaped in order to attack her.

so with that preamble of obviousness.  i shall tell the story of  how my daughter got kicked out of preschool.

————

the first two days of her attending school.  habibi dropped her off and picked her up.  each day he came home with a litany of complaints from preschool director.  her ears were dirty.  her nails needed cutting.  her hair smelled.  she had the wrong diaper bag.  her pants weren’t appropriate.  she shouldnt wear a skirt without pants or people will see her diaper.  her clothes smelled.

now, obviously i didnot agree.  a lot of it just seemed nit picky.  and well, she smells like a kid.

but. since we are in egypt. and sending her to this striver wanna be  day care.  the third morning i got up.  and made sure that her hair was done.  we scrubbed her nails that morning.  her clothes were brand new.  brand new diaper bag.  i put on a button down shirt.  put my hair in a bun.  made sure my nails were clean.  everything tip top shape.  and habibi aza and i went to her preschool.

i met a couple of her teachers.  toured the school.  and as i was leaving.  a teacher had her bag open and was sniffing her leg warmers.  but since those leg warmers were freshly laundered as was everything else in her new bag.  i shrugged it off.  took out my camera and walked out the door.

so you can imagine my surprise when habibi and aza came home with the story that the principal had decided today without warning that she was no longer taking day students.  and if we wanted to attend the preschool we had to pay monthly. and if we were not willing to enroll her montly then she would no longer be welcome at the school.  habibi asked her if this was about the tuition or was it about not wanting aza.  she said it was defintely about the tuition.  and then went on a rant on how dirty smelly and uncared for aza is.  ending with.  no preschool would ever take such a child.  and why doesnt her mother take care of her?

———-

here is the weird thing.  most white people dont see how incredibly racist this is.  which i find really funny.  because white folks pride themselves in contrast to poc in being rational and logical.  and objective.  and yet.  when it comes to racism.  they will look for any excuse other than racism.  no matter how obvious or in your face.

like they would rather believe that my baby is dirty and smelly.  than believe that this woman was racist.  its like ockman’s razor doesnt apply to racism.

like they would rather believe it is an issue of a school deciding in the middle of the week to change a major school policy about tuition effective immediately rather than the much simpler answer that they decided we werent the type of family they wanted to be associated with 6 hours after they had met the black mama.

even the egyptians who work with habibi at an elementary school a block away from this pre school think it was about racism.  and weren’t really surprised by it.  but white folks still want to give this school the benefit of the doubt.

dear fucking christ.

——————

part of the problem with white folks.  is that they are so sure they know what racism is.  and most dont.  most dont have a clue.  like, im walking down the street and some guy from a block away starts yelling.  hey brown sugar.  hey chocolate.  thirty years on this planet in this body tells me.  do not go near this man.  do not get closer to the man making hissing sounds at you.  this man does not respect you.

reasonable assessment.  right?

but how do i know.  this man does not respect me?  maybe his intentions are all good.  maybe he is just selling brown sugar and chocolate.  maybe he has a speech impediment and that is why he hisses.  maybe he really wants to have intellectual convesations about geo political realities.  maybe fairies and unicorns and pots of gold.

i know because.  i know.  i know what sexual harrassment is.  i know what racism is.  they are both a series of verbal and nonverbal actions that fit into a pattern i have survived for thirty years.

i know that the word chocolate can have a lot of meanings.  it can be an invitation to experience pleasure.  and an invitation to experience violence.

————————–

what i find amazing about white folks.  is that they.  who have never been to the preschool.  never met the preschool director or the teachers.  who know nothing about the situation.  assume that they can decide whether or not my daughter and i experienced racism.  they know better than i do.

how rational is that?

——————

now let me talk about the exceptions to the rule.  because there was one white woman who i know.  who got immediately that this was racism.  and of course she is the woman who has worked in anti racism for years.  has a black son.  and is married to a black man.  has lived not only in egypt for years.  but also in black american neighborhoods.  and works with subsaharan refugees here in cairo. and lived in cairo with her young black son.

she knows better than most white folks what racism looks like.

——————

a lot of folks seem to assume that my usa identity will negate the racism in this country.  and thus i dont really experience racism racism.

honestly. i wish. but that is so far from the truth.  so far from what i experience.  that i just want to laugh about it.  racism is not ‘really’ about citizenship or ethnicity or language or accent or socioeconomic class or anything else.  racism is really about racism.  plain and simple.  it is global.  it is about colored bodies and specifically black female bodies as less than fully human.

——————-

the real story: habibi, white, male, n american accent.  walks in and asks about enrolling his daughter into the preschool.  the principal is beside herself.  yes. of course.  she sees prestige.  an image that she is trying to portray to attract the ‘right’ kind of people to her school.  she has modeled her school off the european preschools that proliferate in cairo.  he asks if he can enroll her as a drop in.  because we are waiting for another preschool to open up. of course.  she writes out what he can pay per day, per week, per month.  she highlights their montessori progam and their french and german classes and their organic lunches.  maybe this will mean more internationals will enroll in her school.

he arrives the first day with aza.  not exactly what she was expecting.  the girl looks arab?  who is the mother?  this is not the image that she wants for her school.  maybe he brought her here because the european schools wouldnt take her.  look at her she looks dirty.

the third day she hears from the teachers that the mother came.  she is very black.  what?  no.  this is not what she wanted at all.  no.  this family is not special.  they are not elite.  a little half breed with a black mother.  this is all too much trouble.  and what will people think.  when they see that they are paying top dollar for an elite school and then this black woman comes to pick up her school?  well.  they are common.  and if they want to attend here then they will have to enroll per month just like everyone else.  or else that black mother can take care of her own child.

—————

ive been tryin gto figure out why white folks refuse to see this as racism.  and i think ive got it figured out.  you see.  white people dont normally get to see their white privilege so starkly.  habibi goes into the preschool alone.  and he gets the gold treatment.  he goes in with his brown daughter.  and suddenly there is no gold treatment.  but teh director is still civil.  he goes in with his brown daughter and black wife.  and suddenly they arent welcomed.  that gold treatment is what white people are used to receiving.  and for the most part they dont have to see that.  they dont have to see that it is not a right.  not normal.  it is privilege.  they dont want to see how racism works for them.  how they benefit massively from racism in everyday interactions.

you see.  habibi walked out of that preschool the first day.  feeling like he had acomplished something.  gotten his daughter enrolled in preschool. it never occurrred to him that is whiteness is what got her enrolled.  not him.  not his affable personality.  not his trustworthiness.  it never occurred to him that she had drop in rates because he was white.  nope.  he was just grateful that finding a preschool turned out to be easier than he had thought.

this happens all the time.  i get to see it all the time because i am with him.  i get to see the difference.  in treatment. between a black woman and a white male.  even though we are both n americans.

i really know racism.

i know what it means to be a lil black girl in preschool and be called dirty. and i know sometimes it has nothing to do with dirt.

——————————————-

did i mention that i dont really like chocolate?  the taste, i mean?  it always ends up tasting bitter in my mouth.

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§ 9 Responses to what chocolate means

  • What the fuck Miasha.

    My own understanding and perception of racism is bound soley on every day living experiences living here in Virginia. I’ve only been vaguely aware that racism exists at all outside of the USA, but since I’ve never witnessed it, I’ve never had a way to understand it in any fundamental kind of way since I have no personal reference I can make mentally.

    If this had happened in the US I would imagine that you could possibly have one hell of a lawsuit you could direct at this school. I wouldn’t know what the laws are on this in Egypt.

    With my limited knowledge of Egypt, I had always just figured that this was a predominately a nation of people with African ancestry. It seems utterly loony to me that anyone would run into racism in Cairo.

    I dunno if I would have just known that this woman was being racist if I had witnessed all this myself, I think I would be more dumbfounded by the events and not know what to do. Possibly angered to the point of being speechless.

    I recently took a “vacation” with my mom to Nashville so she could go to the Grande Ole Opry. Nothing but country music 24/7. I stayed there for a week, and saw 2 POC the entire time I was there. As I sat in this auditorium filled to the brim with very old southern white people I realized something. They scared me. I literally feared for my life.

    I have no idea what that means, but if that’s something like what it’s like to be a POC, then holy crap.

    • mama says:

      ha ha ha. about the grand ole opry. i think those of us who grew up in nova. with all its ills and ickiness. did get used to a certain level of ethnic diversity. when i went to college i was shocked by the amount of ppl i met who thought that it was normal to have poc make up 1 or 3 percent of the student body or community or neighborhood. where i kept thinking. really? cause even the hard core confederate flag republicans in our high school always had at least one poc in their clique. ha ha ha. it is kind of funny to think of garfield high as some utopia of ethnic diversity… 😉

  • prof susurro says:

    I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry they said those horrible things abt your child. I’m sorry they sniffed her leg warmers in front of you … I stumbled on your blog way back when b/c of a pic of your child that I thought was so beautiful, I was curious abt her mama & I can’t imagine anyone meeting either of you and thinking “how dirty.” Except of course in that way that so many white people look at black children and think exactly that or look at grown black women and assume we are dirty, stupid, lazy, angry … It isn’t different in Egypt even tho ppl pretend it is, it isn’t different in Latin America even tho ppl swear it is, and it isn’t different in the UK or Australia even tho ppl swear it is just an American thing; the beauty of colonialism is that hatting black folks (and or colorism against darker black folks) is a global thing and all I can say is I’m sorry b/c I can’t reach across the wires and give u and ur child a hug and being an ignorant, angry, smelly, black person myself I know that what happened to you was racism and no one is going to do anything abt it.

    Hopefully you find a good place to take her and tho it sounds like a platitude, it is true that kids are resilient, so hopefully she won’t even remember that place.

    • mama says:

      @profsusurro

      oh thank you! i am so glad that it was aza that attracted you to my blog. (really it wasnt my superb use of grammer? really? … ;)…) we have found a better place for her. or better said we are sending her to the school we were waiting to open up while we sent her to that racist lil preschool. sigh. what i find interesting is how racism causes these psyhological distortions in the way that we say reality. like. the director said she had a diaper rash. but she doesnt have anything near it. so what would make her think that?

    • mama says:

      @prof susurro
      thank you. yeah. she is pretty resilient. she didnt want to go to the new preschool for the first week. but now she is excited to go. 😉

  • bfp says:

    this….is so good and so much and so everything. what i was thinking especially during your opening discussion about woc pointing out racism–is that you are speaking what i’ve been trying to explain to myself ever since I shut down my blog and then opened back up again. every once in a while, i get pissed enough that i comment on something going on with racism/feminism/racism/world/racismracismracism….but…i just don’t have the heart any more. I’ve said to myself over and over and over again–I just don’t *CARE* any more. if people want to be ignorant assholes, fine let them be. but there’s always just a bit in me that resists that, and thinks, no–no. it’s not ok. but–is me not saying anything making it ok?????

    I’m still struggling through it. I am not going to be defined by their racism. I am doing everything I humanly know possible to make it so that I am me. so that I am bfp AND brownfemipower AND my personal identity. because to me, the most important declaration of anti-racism is–not being defined by racists.

    but…always but.

    i know that the answer is not what i’ve seen mulitple people responding to you about this have suggested–suing those fuckers isn’t going to work. and it makes me sad that people think the appropriate response to institutionalized racism–the violence of colonialism, slavery, immigration… the plain old racism racism–is such an individualistic response. those fuckers at that day care—you and aza got the brunt end of their shit–but only because you snuck through the cracks. you took them off guard with your white husband. they didn’t realize they had to protect themselves from you and her in that way.

    so the question is–what to do about the hundreds/thousands of people who didn’t even bother to try going to the school because they lived there forever and just knew better?

    aza and guerilla mama just exposed the rotting carcass. and i think the point is not to seperate aza and gm from the other brown and black people by making them take on the carcass alone–but for all of us to realize that this is all of our problem. that whether we are sitting under the rotting carcass or next to it or in it or upstream from it–it’s there and it’s poisoning ALL of us–and aza and gm are with US, and we are standing WITH them as well ALL confront that shit–we’re not standing to the side and watching while aza and gm face that shit down alone.

    • mama says:

      yes. at some point. i just said. you know what. i have registered my critique with the racism in various movements and society. y’all know what i think if you want to. and since nothing has changed. i am under no obligation to continue to spend my time and energy being your anti racism punching bag. b/c it wasnt good for me. i am a lot of things and people and relationships and thoughts and ihate constantly limiting myself to doing anti racism for white folks.
      throughout recent history there have always been a few white people who get it. and they didnt get it from a blog post or a workshop. they got it because they wanted to get it. like nadia and lex say. listen like what someone is saying could change your life. well most white folks dont want to change their life. not really. they want to enhance it, decorate it with a lil anti racism. but they dont want to go to the core of their way of being in the world and transform. nope. and since i know that is what antiracism requires. and i know that white folks who want to do that will do so. i figure let it be.
      now, everyonce in a while i will intuit or guess that maybe if i spoke up right here. these people are willing to listen with open minds and hear the truth in what i am saying. but honestly. that doesnt happen pretty often.
      and yeah. i dont think my silence means consent. i think it means. that i am no longer willing to the anti racism dance for white folks everytime they put a quarter in the machine.
      anti racism consulting is a career. that i used to get paid to do. so when i do anti racism explanations. i am srsly doing it for free. and that irks me. that white folks expect it of me. for free. when i know how much a consultant gets paid per year.
      that would be like finding out that someone is a professional electrician. and then inviting her over to your house as friends. expecting her to do a bunch of electrical work for free. and then start insulting her when she does the work better than you do. that shit is beyond me.
      like that shit going down with jen and oob. ive been meaning to write about it. because i know what it is like when white femmies go wild. and i will hopefully in the next few days. but part of it is like. i sound like a broken record. how many different ways can you say. sapphire is a stereotype of black women not a genotype. god. white femmies amuse irritate me with their ‘im not a racist, but she is a stereotypical mean angry vindictive black woman.’ okay imnot going to write any more about that situation or my adrenaline will start to rise.
      as for suing them. ha ha ha. it never occurred to me. one. because i dont sue people. two. i live in egypt. on a visa. i have no rights as a citizen. three. i live in a police state. the judicial system here is…special. not something i want to tango with unless necessary. oh and did i mention the routine torture in prisons? four. what a privileged little shit id be. of all the things for me to put my energy behind in human rights law, my lil girl getting kicked out of preschool, is pretty low on the list. things higher on the list: iraqi refugees, sudanese refugees, ethiopian refugees, eritrean refugees, nubian rights, imprisonment of egyptian bloggers, gaza etc. etc. five. we dont have money like that. not even close. we are college students. and that is a step up from the unemployment we were rocking for a while.

      so we are now sending her to a french preschool that *gasp* has black kids in it. and we are still invested in creating a refugee preschool in cairo. habibi has been working on this for most of his time in cairo. the lil preschool is built. but we havent found funding to hire teachers yet. if we had that is where aza would be going.
      and thank you bfp. it is the same carcass you know? i mean prof susurro said it already. racism is racism everywhere i have ever been.

    • mama says:

      and just want to say how grateful to all of the awesome folks that i know through the internet. b/c ppl taking time out of their day just to say. and yeah. that was fucked up. and sending love. just reminds me how fortunate i am. to get a space to rant and work shit out. with others. going to sleep now. but thank you everyone.

  • kmd says:

    Thank you, gm and bfp. I am about to be in the market for a daycare center, and I will make a point of looking for one where the organization is welcoming to staff and children and families of all races.

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