what chocolate means
October 20, 2009 § 9 Comments
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.