Cross cultural communication–I think I am failing

Disclaimer: This post is a reflection of my thoughts, what may be true for me may not be for you so I am going to try not to generalize but this is my perception.

In my early blogging days, I wrote about relationships between Black and White women and today I am revisiting the topic. The truth is that since I was a teenager, I have had very few connections withwhite women. Funny thing is I did not grow up in a predominantly Black setting, I actually spent all of my school days in most instances being the only Black kid or one of only a handful…this would have been in the late 70’s through the 1980’s. So with a background like that you would think I would be pretty comfortable having white women as friends, but the truth is its very hard for me.

I have no bias against white women but at the end of the day, I often feel like we speak different languages. Take child rearing, its a universal thing we as women all do (ok, all women that have kids that is) yet when I speak with most white women even with things like education and class being factored in, I still feel as if I am holding back. Hell, I am actually convinced that with raising kids there is a whole cultural component that plays a large role. Take breastfeeding, I nursed well past what most women do yet in talking with my white friends its still hard to discuss, maybe its me though.  Funny thing is this internal holding back I do only seems to happen with white women. It does not happen with white men, since if it did, I guess the Spousal Unit would be gone by now…though lately we do wonder if race sometimes plays a role in some of our issues these days, but that is another story.

I am not bashing white women because again I have met some who I really do connect with but the funny thing is the ones I connect with the best tend to come from humble roots. There are a few local women I know who come from working class origins though they are not there anymore and they are the ones I definitely feel most comfortable with. Its hard enough for me being Black without having to explain, no that is not a Black thing, its a poor folk or working class thing. Turns out government cheese was eaten by all poor folks though Black comedians would have you to believe its a Black thing, same with kool-aid. As Dave Chappelle joked, Black folks have grape drink…well Dave, there are plenty of white folks who had grape drink too! They just don’t share that as often as poor Black folks do.

A while back one of my truly good friends who lives here in Maine and happens to be white commented on the fact that for the longest time she felt I was really reserved and yet she is glad that we were able to get past our initial tensions where race and class threatened to end our relationship before it ever really began. In this instance my friend is someone who comes from great privilege even with some old money thrown in to really highlight the differences between us yet even now we still have moments where there is the uncomfortable pause.

Sometimes I think maybe its me, but sometimes I know its not me. Take my CSA(community supported agriculture) experience. For what, 5-6 years we have been members of what is essentially a farm co-op, in the early days I used to go with the Spousal Unit to do the pickups, thinking maybe I would get to know some folks. After all if you belong to the same CSA, its safe to say you have some shared interests (healthy eating) well after weeks and months of trying to be friendly with folks and make small talk, I realized it just was not working. I know…maybe folks are just not friendly. I would buy that argument if my white buddies (the two)I know who also belonged to the same CSAhad not made connections with other shareholders at the CSA.

Does my breath stink? Do I look crazy? What’s wrong with me? Its the same with playgroups, when girl child was born before I went back to work, I tried connecting with other Mamas and kids at playgroups. Um…that was a bust. Now the Spousal Unit is in charge of outside park play, I hate being at the park and since small talk with other parents sucks, he can do it.  Of course with the change to our schedules, I will have to try again and I am dreading it.

Now I do well at talking to people of color, folks in a professional setting and older folks but stuff me in a room with white women who are technically my peers and I feel like that awkward 10th grader who never had any dates back in the 1980’s because I was sorta cute for a Black girl (a classmate actually said this to me) but interracial dating wasn’t the thing back then. The only cats who were willing to date me were shifty types or white boys of privilege who hoped I was a easy girl if ya know what I mean? Yet I watched my girls primp and talk about their dates, boyfriends and lives yet basically was sitting on the sidelines.

However as a 36 year old woman who happens to be Black and lives in Maine and isn’t leaving anytime soon, I wonder how can I better connect across racial lines? So if you got any tips help a sista out.

Alternate Universe for Real

Back in 1995, a little movie came out that at the time seemed a tad  far-fetched…imagine a world where Black folks were in the ruling class and well white folks by and large were not with maybe a few exceptions. White Man’s Burden at the time it was released seemed like some sort of fantasy…of course fast forward to 2009.

A world where a Black man is the more powerful man on earth, president of the United States. A world where white men are starting to feel a tad oppressed, a world where a cop in a certain well known academic town answers a call about a possible burglary only to end up arresting a premier scholar who not only happens to be Black but also happens to be friends with the president of the United States. A world where the president of the United States actually takes a second in the midst of a prime time speech to speak out on behalf of his buddy and essentially call the cop who did the arresting stupid.

I know I must be getting old because had someone told me this would actually be a real story and not something out of a movie similar to White Man’s Burden, I would have laughed. Seriously, whether or not you think Sgt Crowley was right or wrong, or that Henry Louis Gates was right or wrong, the fact is that having a Black man at the helm of the United States is going to force us at some point as a nation to start having real discussions about race relations in this country.

Funny thing is that for 7 out of 10 Black Americans upon hearing what happened to Gates I am sure the thought was that’s just business as my son at 17 jokes, he has already had his first encounter with the po-po for the simple crime of walking down the street while being Black.

Anyway if anyone else is struck with how surreal this situation is I suggest you look up White Man’s Burden on Netflix, it may make for an interesting flick in light of where we are as a nation.

The follow-up

In case you are interested in the follow up to my last post, I am posting the column that was accepted by my editor…which has spawned a conversation with my editor and a meeting for next week. I will keep you posted on whether or not, I will keep writing professionally since its really just a side thing I do since my real day is non-profit hack! By the way I have not responded to any of the comments on the last post but may do so in a separate post since I think the comments are interesting and actually speak to some of what happens with multiracial discussions take place.

Me, myself and race

I have been told by many different people at many different times that I put too much thought into race. That perhaps I overreact to things and see race as a factor when it might not be.

You should have met me years ago if you think that, because I really don’t obsess on race that much. To be honest, my White husband is far more likely to get into protracted battles of words online with people about race and White privilege than I ever would in any situation.

However, I do have a column called Diverse-City, race is still an important issue in this country, and I’m still Black. And a lot of people just won’t let me forget the color of my skin, because they still treat me differently than every white person around me. It doesn’t matter how many letters I have amassed after my name. It doesn’t matter what my job is. It doesn’t matter how law-abiding I am. What matters is that, like it or not, people assume things about Black people in general. This is not something that happens to White people.

Oh, I know that White people of various kinds can be judged on various things, like weight or gender. But as a race, White people don’t ever have to worry about most of the population looking at them and assuming that the color of their skin means they will behave in certain ways, like certain foods, enjoy certain music, be more prone to commit crimes, be more likely to have children they can’t afford, and so on.

Problem is, when I point out that I’m being treated in a certain way probably because of my race, I am often asked to prove it. My judgment is questioned. My experiences of an entire lifetime are discarded as irrelevant. My instincts are cast into doubt. Studies that show how Blacks are inequitably treated all the time are inadmissible. In other words, short of being able to bring in a team of researchers to study my life for a few years, nothing will prove to a naysayer that my feelings are on the money.

So, if I speak up, I must be prepared to get all sorts of alternate scenarios and reminders of how far our nation has come. All to invalidate my very real concerns and the evidence of my own experience.

If a parent takes a child away from a playground because someone seems a bit creepy, even if they haven’t gone near a single child in an improper fashion, that’s considered good parenting. I agree.

If a woman flees from a man she thinks might be dangerous, that is considered a wise and proactive move. I agree.

So why does no one else agree that I can claim racism when:

My Black son is harassed by police, multiple times, for merely walking down the street.

My White husband is asked during a traffic stop to explain who I am and why I’m in the car.

Five White people in front of me in line don’t get a second glance when they hand over a credit card, yet I am expected to provide one or two forms of ID, and the cashier looks them over intently for 10 seconds or longer.

I am asked to explain how all Black people feel about a certain issue.

I get my food long after several later-arriving White patrons already got theirs, and their food is nice and steamy while mine is room temperature.

I could go on, but the fact is that I let most of these things slide, and don’t want to dwell on them. It’s just that I occasionally get fresh reminders that are so hard to ignore.

Oh, like eminent Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. being arrested this week for breaking into his own home, even though he had ID to prove he lived there. Because we all know that the nice police officer would have done that to a White homeowner. Yeah, right.