Racial Roulette and Rachel Dolezal

Over the past few days, I’ve been in multiple discussions with people on Twitter over the Rachel Dolezal controversy. Here are a variety of links to the story (from various left- and right-wing establishments), if you are unaware of what is going on:

CNN 

The Daily Mail

Breitbart

New York Daily News

BuzzFeed

Washington Post

They all pretty much say the same thing; a woman, born white, decided to be Black, complete with curly hair and tanned skin, and became an activist for Black people, up to and including, becoming the leader of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP.

First off, whether she is Black or White makes no difference to her position within the NAACP. The NAACP was originally began as a collaborated effort between Black and White community leaders who organized to “fight for social justice for all Americans”. From their website:

WELCOME TO THE NAACP

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. From the ballot box to the classroom, the thousands of dedicated workers, organizers, leaders and members who make up the NAACP continue to fight for social justice for all Americans.

Founding group
The NAACP was formed partly in response to the continuing horrific practice of lynching and the 1908 race riot in Springfield, the capital of Illinois and resting place of President Abraham Lincoln. Appalled at the violence that was committed against blacks, a group of white liberals that included Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard, both the descendants of abolitionists, William English Walling and Dr. Henry Moscowitz issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice. Some 60 people, seven of whom were African American (including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell), signed the call, which was released on the centennial of Lincoln’s birth.

Nondiscrimination Policy

The NAACP is an Equal Employment Opportunity employer.  As such, it is the continuing policy of the NAACP to take affirmative action to assure equal opportunity for all employees or prospective employees without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status, physical or mental disability, and any other categories protected by applicable federal, state, or local law (www.naacp.org).

Many people have stated that Rachel Dolezal is “trans-racial”, similar to Caitlyn Jenner being transgender. This argument, however, minimalizes what Transgender folks deal with their entire lives, and I’m not even going to entertain it. What I am going to entertain is the idea of a person coming from privilege, by virtue of being born White, and choosing to be marginalized, by putting on “blackface“.

As a woman who was born Cuban-American, that is, my heritage, my culture, my language, all comes from being a 2nd generation Cuban-American, the daughter of Cuban immigrants, I understand how one can be made to feel inadequate, so that you then reach out to groups that help make you feel accepted. I have lived my life like this. This, however, does not stem from me being Cuban-American. That part of my identity is actually just another complex layer to the cake that is me. My Latino roots and my ability to speak Spanish, to dance salsa, to eat Cuban food, etc., let those around me know that I am “other”. Now, my parents are Cuban, but (to use the racial construct that most people know and are familiar with) my mother is Black (African descent, thanks to slavery) and my father is White (Spanish descent, thanks to privilege/colonization). This makes me bi-racial.

As a child, I recall a time when I was attending elementary school. I never considered myself, at that time, as anything much other than what I saw around me, which was plenty of White people (as my father’s children with his 1st wife are all White with dark brown hair), so I also thought of myself as part of that group. It wasn’t until kindergarten that I understood that I was “different”. To my young mind and understanding, my extremely curly, unruly hair was because “I’m Cuban” and not because “my mom is Black”. I never even viewed my mother as anything other than just Cuban (and she spent more time inside, out of the sun, than outside, and for her own reasons). I distinctly recall, however, sitting in the sandbox at recess at South Christian Grade School, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, playing with my friend, Dawn. We were making little sandcastles, as the sand was damp and sticky. A little boy comes walking up to the sandbox and looks at me and says “You’re a n*gger”. At five years old, this was the moment that defined much of how I viewed myself and viewed the world. FIVE. YEARS. OLD.

I laughingly joke with my friends now that I’ve always been a chameleon. In the predominantly Black neighborhood where I grew up, I was seen as the “White girl” by my Black friends. I have a friend that, even today, will tease me about being a White girl. At the predominantly White/Dutch Christian schools I attended, I was a “Black girl”; never quite rejected, but never fully accepted, either. I spent my school days being friends with everyone, on the surface, because I wasn’t the same as everyone else and that dynamic had been set for me at five years old, in a sandbox. In my parents home, and in the community areas where Latinos were abundant, I was neither Black nor White, but just Hispanic or Latino. I spoke Spanish. Ate Cuban food. Listened to Spanish-speaking music, radio shows and news, and hung out with other Latinos at the other Spanish-speaking church we attended.

If I ever looked or dressed like a White girl, it was also in the context of being around White people; this mostly occurred while at the Christian Reformed church we attended and while I was at school. If I ever looked or dressed like a Black girl, it was in the context of being around my Black friends; this mostly occurred while hanging out after school, playing tag in our neighborhood, or when we’d go cruising down the main strip in our little town. If I ever looked or dressed like a Latina, it was in the context of being at home or at the Spanish-speaking church and  community events that were specific for Latinos.

The biggest difference between my chameleon nature and what Rachel Dolezal has done, is that I am all those things in one. However, because of how society views the social construct of race, I never had the full benefits of White privilege, unless it was by extension of my father. When I was with my father in public, no one would ever have thought to call me a “n*gger”. Once I left my parent’s home, the wide world around me knew me for what I was (or rather, what they wanted me to be) and that is NOT WHITE. I can straighten my hair, like a White girl, but at the touch of water or humidity, its curly kinks come right back. I can stay out of the sun for six months to lighten my skin, but let a ray of sunlight touch me and I’m tan in moments. My facial features hint at my Spanish ancestry, but my ample bosom, round belly, and thick thighs are quite different from the White girls I went to school with. Even those things, however, can be changed, if I chose to do so. Plastic surgery could remove much of what distinguishes me from being a White girl. However, and here is the salient point, plastic surgery cannot remove from my mind and memory, the little boy that walked up to me and called me a n*gger, when I was only five years old. Plastic surgery or makeup or a wig cannot remove from me the numerous times I’ve walked into a predominantly White shopping center, and been followed or side-eyed, or when my children have been inspected when walking out of Sam’s Club, because they were well-dressed, had on gold jewelry, and were listening to their Ipods. The subtle, insidious racism that I have faced over 40 years of life cannot be scrubbed away, covered up, or removed like an old scarf. That sits with me, daily, and is part and parcel of who I am.

Rachel Dolezal was born a white girl in Montana. She chose, as an adult, to live her life as a Black woman. She never said, however, “I am white, I just feel better accepted by the Black community”. She instead relied on deception to portray herself as a Black woman. From news articles I have read, she even went so far as to enlist a Black older man to portray her father and, there is question regarding the legitimacy of the alleged death threats she has received over the years. To add to this strange situation, she also seemed to deem herself a worthy judge of “Latino-ness”, when it came to teaching her students.

I can understand wanting to fit into a culture where you feel more accepted. I find myself having to do this daily, as I struggle with my identity in the different environments I live in (Black, White, Latina). I just cannot get over, however, the deception, as this leads me to think that there was different motivation behind her desire to live her adult life as a Black woman.

Some articles insinuate that she grew up with some self-loathing or hatred towards White people, and consequently here we are. The thing is, I’ve hated White people before. I’ve hated Black people before. I’ve hated Cuban people before. I, too, have experienced self-loathing.

I suppose the most telling difference between Ms. Dolezal and I, is that when I felt that way, I got therapy.

True story.

-Lisa

My Experience Is Not Everyone’s Experience (a.k.a How -isms shape our lives) Part 1

Just had a conversation with someone I care about, who also happens to be white and male.  It was regarding white privilege and what needs to happen for people of color (PoC) to prosper to the same degree as most White people. The argument this person made was that he knows many PoC that have sufficient enough money to get themselves into a better situation. I tried to explain that money plays some role, but it is not the end-all when it comes to opportunities for PoC and women, when we live in a society where the “-isms” (ex. Sexism, racism, ageism, etc) and other biases rule.

I’ve had this type of conversation with many people; some White, some PoC, some with an American cultural background, some with a Latino cultural background. The end result is always the same: you cannot convince anyone of anything, unless they have experienced it for themselves. Now, I’ve had plenty of experiences, both good and bad, that I can recount, that have led me to see the “-isms” and the white privilege that exists in our society. Unfortunately, there have been more bad experiences than good, which might explain why I feel the way I do.

Firstly, I want to explain that I don’t want to “convince” anyone of anything. Convince, according to Webster’s dictionary: to cause (someone) to believe that something is true. To me, this implies that the thing you are trying to explain may not actually be true, but you want this other person to believe it. There need be no convincing. The fact of the matter is that racism, sexism, ageism, etc. exist in our society today, and these “-isms” have a profound affect on the decisions people make and whether those people are offered opportunities to live successful, fulfilling lives.

Secondly, the conversation I had and this posting, are my opinion. My opinion based on my experiences which are rooted in fact. As the saying goes “Opinions are like assholes – everyone has one”. This is not to say that the fact of racism, sexism, ageism, etc. does not exist, but rather that, my experiences are situations that occurred due to these “-isms” and they have shaped how I see my world. It does not mean that everyone who feels as I do have had the same experiences, nor that anyone who cannot see my point of view have not had similar experiences. It means that my view of what occurred, my opinion of what happened, can only be explained through the lens of these “-isms”.

Let me tell you one of my experiences:

I moved to Florida when I was 19 years old. At the time, I was still religious and was looking for a church to attend. I went to one close by to where I was living at the time. I believe it was an Episcopalian church. Regardless of the denomination, I felt the need, at the time, to find a place for worship, as that was present in my upbringing and, at that time, I felt it was the “right thing to do”. I walked into this little church, and there was an older man walking along the pews, placing hymnals on the seats. Here’s where the story gets interesting. Those of you that know me, know that I am fairly articulate. I do not speak with an accent (and even so, why would I? Although I am Cuban-American, I was born and raised in the Midwest and mostly around White people) and although I am “mixed”, my skin is olive-toned and I maintain my hair in a more straightened state. Here’s a pic for you to note:

Snapshot_20152221408

February 22, 2015 2:09pm

I didn’t look much different back then…maybe a little less wrinkly, but I think you get the idea. Point is, I walked into that church and asked the gentleman “What time are services?” To which the gentleman responded with “We have the English speaking service at 9 am, however, we have an excellent Spanish speaking service at 1 pm.” I remember that I took a moment to digest what he had just said. After thinking I may have misunderstood him, I asked the question again, “Excuse me, you said that services begin at 9 am?” To which he replied, quite kindly, “Yes, our English speaking services are at 9 am, however, we have a very lovely Spanish speaking service at 1 pm.”

I am fairly certain I left with my mouth hanging open. I thanked him and left. But, needless to say, I never attended that church. I even began my quest to become an atheist from that moment on. I had already struggled with religious hypocrisy, but that moment was the pinnacle for my journey on another path, away from religion. That, however, is another story for another day.

This would be my first real experience that I can tie, definitely, to an “-ism”. His response was socially unacceptable, given that nothing I said, asked, or presented, gave any indication that I was anything other than an English speaking woman. Now, does that offend me? Yes, it does. Although, to his credit, he did answer my question, however, his response was meant to direct me to the Spanish speaking service, as opposed to the English speaking service. Why would you think he would want to do that? Given the implicit biases that we all are faced with each day, my only conclusion is that he saw my olive-toned skin and black hair, and immediately assumed I would want the Spanish speaking service. If I had been a blonde Latina with no accent, my assumption can only be that he would have answered my question straight forwardly, rather than with an addendum.

Comment below if you have a story similar to this where you felt as though you were being misdirected or judged for how you looked, versus what you were looking for. And stick around, there are more of these lovely experiences to come.

They are all part of Digame’s Diary – a true story!

Thanks for reading!

Lisa

 

Read Part 2 here.

 

My Experience Is Not Everyone’s Experience (a.k.a How -isms shape our lives) Part 2

Another story for you of my experience with “-isms” (ex. racism, sexism, ageism, etc).

When I moved back to Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2006, I was sitting pretty on a large sum of cash. Growing up, as I was a girl (and a Latina girl, no less), my role was always defined as “the nurturer”. Back then, even though it is not that long ago, I was implicitly being groomed to be the homemaker, caretaker, wife, cook, maid; all the things that my mother was and that I was supposed to be because, as my father always told me, “you are a girl”.

Yes, I am a girl

Yes, I am a girl

 

However, watching my mother and her submission to my father and her reliance on him, sparked a fierce independence in me. Even to this day, I struggle with the desire to be close to others (males) and yet retain my independence. My mother, at 76 years old, has her driver’s license, but has not driven a car in over 20 years. She knows and can utilize cash money, but does not know how to pay a bill with a credit/charge/debit card or checkbook. She has never had to improve her English speaking skills, because my father can speak English quite well. The big issue for her, however, is that my father is 9 years her senior and beginning to fall to the ravages of time. My fear is that she will not be able to manage things herself once he is gone. I, on the other hand, have no issues paying my own bills, searching for assistance and information in this new technological age, driving a car, etc.

InTheKitchen2008

In the Kitchen (Where I belong?)_2008

 

This is the backlash to the way I was raised. This has helped me in many ways, yet hindered me in others.

Back to my story….I had packed up my girls and moved back “home” to Kalamazoo. As I stated, I was sitting pretty and had a full time job on top of the money I had. So, going to the store was not an issue. Purchasing those things I wanted and needed was not a problem, as I had plenty of money to do so. So, I did. I wanted my children to have the full benefit of this money, as we had always struggled before. Now, that is not to say that I went hog wild and spent money on fashion items, but it was not uncommon for me to go to Target or Sam’s Club and drop a few hundred dollars on necessities and desires.

One afternoon, my girls and I went to Sam’s Club to purchase some groceries and small appliances. I ended up spending a good $600 on this trip. But, that is not the shocking part of this story.

To understand this experience, you need to understand how I raised my daughters and how they were when we would go out in public.

 

100_3774

Jaime bday pic 080507 Tomara, Adriana, and Jaime 2006

My girls were always clean, well groomed, and wearing gold jewelry (this largely in part because of a metal allergy, which did not allow them to wear costume, or fake, jewelry). So, on this particular day, my daughters were nicely dressed, wearing their gold jewelry, and sporting the Ipod’s I had purchased them. See, going to the grocery store with Mom was not as exciting an adventure as it used to be when they were toddlers.

We make our purchases and head out the store. If you have ever shopped in a big box store, you know that they typically have a greeter at the door, who will also inspect your receipt and the contents of your cart, as you exit. This day, there was an older lady, with a short red bob (what I jokingly call “the Midwestern Mom haircut”) standing at the door. I roll my cart towards her and reach out to hand her my receipt. My girls are standing around me, joking and laughing and bobbing their heads to whatever music they are listening to. This lady grabs my receipt with a nervous smile, and looks at it. She then proceeds to look at my children. She sizes them up, her eyes traveling up and down the length of them, inspecting their clothing, jewelry, and Ipod’s in their hands. She then looks back at the receipt. Her eyes travel back to me and she says “that’s very pretty jewelry your daughters are wearing”. I smile and say “thank you”.

Do you see what was wrong with this exchange, no matter how polite it all seemed? She never ONCE looked in my cart to verify that the items on the receipt were in the cart. She only looked at me and my children. Now, why do you think that is?

Yeah, it was racism...

Yeah, it was racism…

I have my assumptions about the manner, which I fully addressed with the manager of this Sam’s Club. You see, I understand that there are people who feel compelled to steal things from stores. Ironically enough, I also am intelligent enough to know, based on empirical fact, that the majority of theft occurs in the White population.

According to the FBI, in 2009, there were a total of 1,056,473 reported thefts (larceny). Of those, 68.1% were committed by White people, 29.0% by Black people, 1.4% by American Indian or Alaskan natives, and 1.4% by Asian or Pacific Islanders (https://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_43.html). Now, I’m not saying that people other than White people do not steal, however, the White people leaving that store before and after me were not attended to with such scrutiny as my daughters and I were.

I understand the desire for someone to do a good job at what they do, and considering what this woman’s job was, I’m sure she didn’t want anyone stealing anything under her watch. I do not understand, however, her scrutiny of my children (who were all minors at the time). She did not perform her specified job, which, I’m assuming, was to verify that the receipt matched the contents of my cart. She didn’t do her job. She, instead, took it upon herself to immediately judge myself and my children, and made her biased presumptions solely on…what? Skin color, perhaps? That is the only assumption I can make at this point, as I did not have time to speak to her, but only to her manager. I took my cart full of items to my car, fuming the entire time, and then I returned to the store to see if I could confront her. I did not want to make a scene, but I was damned sure not going to hold my tongue.

I was offended. Not so much by her scrutiny, but by the fact that she was sending a message to me and my children by her behavior. The fact that a woman with three brown children could not purchase those items, or had the need to steal what the children were wearing, is the very distressing message that she was conveying.

My discussion with my White, male friend included this concept. That it is not the tangible, explicit things PoC deal with on a daily basis, but rather those covert, or hidden,  “-isms” that pervade our society. Quite possibly this woman thought she was not doing anything untoward, however, in my eyes, she was. She was saying “you aren’t the right color/type/culture/gender/what-have-you to be able to shop and spend money in this store.”

True Story!

Comment below on whether you’ve ever been faced with a situation where someone conveyed this type of message to you, without the exact words even being spoken. Or any other story you have of racism, sexism, ageism, etc. that you would like to share.

Thanks for reading!

Lisa

 

Read Part 1 here.

A Tale of Two Cubans

It was the best of times…okay, who am I kidding?

I present to you a Tale of Two Cubans and how our lives diverged.

blackwhiteL_A

I was born in Michigan, to Cuban immigrants who came to this country over 40 years ago. They met in Michigan (go figure) and after some upheaval in their own lives, came together as a couple to raise my father’s seven children and have two more, my brother and I. I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan and spent most of my childhood here. I attended a good Christian school, went to church twice every Sunday, not to mention Catechism every week, and Youth Group every Wednesday  night, and even attending a Methodist church (because it was in Spanish) every Sunday afternoon, after morning church.

I left home for good when I turned 17 years old; I was pregnant and getting married. I left Michigan when I turned 19, as the marriage was on the rocks and I hated being in the place where so much betrayal had occurred. But, that’s a different story.

Throughout the years, after moving to Florida, I continued to attempt to lean on my parents, to help me get ahead. Very rarely, if ever, did I get concrete assistance from them. The excuses were always the same “we are too old to watch your kids” (they were in their 60’s), “we have no money” (they are retired, living off of pensions and social security), “we have no time” (they cleaned houses in their spare time, when they weren’t running off to Miami to visit family or going to church). What does this matter? Well, it doesn’t, not really. Hell, I grew up with all the advantages of being in the United States, right? All the opportunity that a mixed-race Latina mother could scrounge together on her own, after getting a Class A education at a private school. Which, I hate to say, isn’t much opportunity. I had too many strikes against me: bi-racial, Cuban, a woman, not to mention, a single, divorced mother.

But, even with all that adversity staring me square in the face, I managed to work long hours and even moved up into a prominent position at the company I worked for. I sacrificed a lot to get there, however. I worked ridiculously long hours, neglecting my children in small ways (missing their first steps and first words, because they were in daycare. Not being able to help with homework, because I was on my computer, running reports and managing servers from my home computer), but we had a roof over our heads, food on the table, and my children always were dressed decently.  They lacked for nothing – well, nothing but a mother’s time and attention. I gave up trying to get any assistance from my parents many years ago, because they were obviously not willing to help me out. They hadn’t really helped any of their other children, why would I be different? So, I struggled. I made my own decisions for me and my children, which weren’t always the best ones. I depended on myself and learned to ignore anything my parents had to say – what could they say?

Where did that leave me? I’ve had some awesome Ups and some serious Downs. I’ve had lots of money, I’ve had no money. But, the worst part of it all was not that my parents wouldn’t help me – hell, it’s my life, I have to live it my way, right? No, the worst part was that I never felt as though I had “support”. This concept of support, from family and friends, is so important. It’s not the monetary support that is important, but the realization that you have someone who you can talk to, who will listen, who will, if not dip into their own pocket to help you, at least point you in a good direction where you can find any assistance that you need. I didn’t get that from my parents. I’m not sure if that was due to my being their youngest child, or if it was because I was a girl (in their minds, the only thing I really needed was to find “a good man” to “take care of me” and then I wouldn’t have to worry about anything) and goodness knows, girls can’t do anything on their own! (Yes, that is heavily laden sarcasm coming at you through this computer screen!)

So, here I am. Currently unemployed, but of my own choosing. I finished my Psychology degree in December, 2014 and am proud of myself for having stuck with the studying to accomplish this goal. I had worked for a company that treats children with autism, but left that employer due to administrative issues. I’ve reached that point in my life where overworking your employees does not set well with me, and I’m unwilling to compromise on my time – especially after what I went through when my children were young. Now that I’m a grandmother, I do not want to lose that precious time with her as she grows and learns new things (particularly how she came into this world). But, that is yet another story.

Now, my cousin, the other Cuban, has only been in this country for a little over a year. He escaped Cuba last year by traveling to Ecuador and then procuring a “coyote” to take him all the way across the US – Mexico border. Say what you will about undocumented people, anyone who does that shit has BALLS. Period. Whether they come from South/Central America or the Caribbean. It is a harrowing journey that not everyone has the courage to undertake, and one day, I will tell you his full story. But, I digress….

So, my cousin hopped a bus from Texas and traveled to Florida to live with my parents. During his stay with them, they provided him with a bed and food, they bought him clothes, they helped him get his paperwork in order. I even gave him the van I had left with my parents, so he would have a means of transportation. In the course of a year, this man has managed to obtain his CDL license (he had experience in this working in Cuba), worked for a trucking company almost continuously (returning home only once every 20 days or so), and saved over $18,000 to purchase his own semi. Which he now has. I don’t even know how much he has saved in total, but I know he is doing much better than I am (by far).

What is the point I am trying to make?

peter-steiner-you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be-no-limits-new-yorker-cartoon

Peter Steiner – The New Yorker

 

Here you have a tale of one Cuban that was born and raised in this country, with all the opportunity it has to offer. And another who was born and raised in Cuba, where there is no opportunity for advancement, much less opportunity to have regular food, clean water, etc. Yet, thanks to support from my parents, he has managed to surpass me in the “American Dream”. To the point where he is starting his own company. Do not misunderstand me, I am not envious of my cousin. I only want to point out how our environments and the supports available have shaped our present lives. How being a male determines how others will approach and attend to you. How other people’s perception of you, can have an affect on the decisions you make and can have far reaching effects into your future.

I can only speculate on what my life would have been like if I’d been born in Cuba. What my life would have been like if I’d been born a boy. What my life would have been like if I’d received more familial support from all my family – parents and siblings – rather than being shunned. What my life would have been like if I’d never had three children. What my life would have been like if I’d never married, but had gone straight into college. I could sit here and do this all day. “What if” my life to death. But, I won’t.

I just wanted to present you a story of two people, who were raised with similar culture, but in different environments, and how that environment shaped our lives.