I have been madly in love with my fiancé for well over a year now, and I have had many new and interesting experiences over the course of our time together. Relationships in general are full of surprises, but interracial relationships will leave you flabbergasted at the rampant ignorance of our society on any given day. I have had strangers blatantly ask me "if my father approved of me dating a black man". My fiancé has been called a "weak man" for dating outside of his race. And we cannot forget the constant fetishization of our (not yet conceived) mixed children. But out of all of these less than desirable situations, the most astounding to me is the lack of regard, sensitivity or common sense regarding racial identity and discrimination.
I think we are all aware that citizens in this country can identify with one (or many) different races or ethnicities. Some people are black. Some people are white. Some people are Hispanic. Some people are Asian or Pacific Islander, and so on. However, these categories do not exclusively correspond with one type of behavior or one type of person. To put it as simply as possible, each one of these racial or ethnic identities have both good and bad people within them. This might be a surprise for a few of you, but not all minorities are "bad" as your racist (dad/grandpa/uncle/etc.) once told you. And an even bigger shocker, not all white people are "good". We are all a pretty balanced mix of good and bad, if I had to guess, and none of us are above another because of their skin color or racial identity.
As Sirius Black once said (in Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix), "We've all got both light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are." Truer words have never been spoken!
And yet, with this limitless knowledge (I would hope) that we all are aware of, people still have the nerve to tell my fiancé (and countless other people of color) that they "talk/act white". And the most unfortunate aspect of it all is that most people (in my experience) feel that there is nothing wrong with those words. Even worse, some people might even consider the phrase a compliment.
For a topic as challenging as this one, I recognized my limits and realized that in order to do this piece justice, I would need to call in a few people with a bit more wisdom. I needed to call in people who were not white.
*The names of the people interviewed have been changed for their personal privacy.*
The first person I spoke to was a man named Alfred* who believes that these harsh generalizations affect young people of color the most, saying that it takes away their freedom to "express themselves". As an African-American, he has experienced this first-hand as a teen. He said that there is a "cookie cutter way that all black people are supposed to talk and act" and if you stray away from other peoples "idea" of black, you are "made fun of by your own black peers" and sometimes people outside of your race, as well.
The second person I spoke with explains what it felt like to always be labeled something that she wasn't. Myra* of Guatemalan and El Salvadorian descent said, "It kind of caught me off guard, because I've always been proud of my heritage, and when people would say this to me, it would make me feel like I needed to act more Hispanic. However, I also felt like because I was in a society that wasn't as accepting of Hispanic and Latinx culture, it was a good thing to 'act/speak white' because I saw firsthand how people with accents or who 'looked' more Hispanic would get judged more easily."
Crystal* (who identifies as biracial) says that insinuations of her "acting white" is an insult, not because she is "against white people", but because it makes her feel like she "isn't good enough for her own races". She feels like an "outcast ... It's like no matter how I act, I can't fit into any group. Because I am [either] white-washed, or a beaner or too 'ghetto' ... being mixed is hard".
However, Martin*, a proud Mexican-American disagrees. He said that there have been people who called him a "coconut", implying that he is "brown on outside, and white on inside" due to the things that he finds interest in (like specific foods, American sports, white women, etc.), but he doesn't take any offense when people make these comments. "I can understand how people see it as an insult, because unfortunately there are racist people out there, but that honestly depends on the person." He explains that even though some people might mean it in a degrading way, he tries to "never take it personal ... every race has 'rotten apples'."
Allyson* has different experiences regarding discrimination. She is an African-American who grew up around predominately white people (until about middle school age) when she realized the racial differences between her and her peers and how that played out in society. She says that she feels the effects of this discrimination from people of color, more so than anything else.
"To be honest, I find myself sometimes avoiding black people. Sometimes I say [that] I am too black to be white and too white to be black. I've heard several black people say ... 'oh I thought you were stuck up at first', and I think to myself, what really gave you that impression? I dress very moderately, I am not flashy at all. I don't turn my nose up at much of anything, but because I sound what you deem [to be] 'white', you get a stuck up impression from me?"
However, Myra* feels that racism from non-POC is insulting, as well (but in a different way). "I would also be told ... that there was no way I could be Hispanic because I didn't have an accent or didn't look like 'they did', or even because I had pale skin and Guatemalan's were 'short and dark' ... I think it means that they [white people] are trying to compliment you, as stupid as that sounds. 'Wow, you don't seem Hispanic!' [or] 'You must be a few generations in because you don't have an accent!' Black people and Hispanic people and Asian people have been told this for years and they are supposed to take it as a compliment. Because if you speak with an accent of any kind, you must be an immigrant or from the 'hood' or any other variation of that. It's not fair."
Alfred* expressed to me that these racial connotations have a different affect on him now that he has grown up a bit. "I would say that I used to take 'acting white' as ... sort of a compliment, unfortunately. It would make me feel as though I belonged. It wasn't until I found an authentic pride in being a black male that it started to piss me off. [If it happens] now, I am highly insulted."
As a young impressionable individual, Allyson* agreed that being called "white" was not quite the insult that it is today (as an adult). She says this, "At first I was flattered. I thought it was a compliment. I used to think I was ... special when a boy who was notorious for only dating white girls would come my way, because to me, that must have meant that I was GOOD. I had one of my best friends parents tell me that they liked me, because I 'wasn't like other black kids'. I was smart and (insert stereotypical shit here). I even started thinking that I was above my black sisters, because I didn't wear orange and purple weave, I wasn't making twerk videos and I wasn't loud or obnoxious. I was smart, and for the longest, I thought other black girls weren't."
But Allyson's opinions have changed greatly over time, as she grows both mentally and physically. "Now, I am highly offended and have had run ins with people when they feel the need to be oh so original and tell me I sound 'white'. Then, they correct themselves and say, 'well you just talk really proper'. Well shouldn't we all be speaking properly? I hate it. And I will be quick to educate and correct someone who tries it".
Allyson* is not alone in feeling conflict within her own race, Martin* has similar frustrations and he said that this is a common situation within his family unit. His late father was born in Mexico, "but came to the United States to work hard" and his hard work and dedication eventually led him to gaining citizenship, and becoming a pastor in this country. "He gained respect from people of all colors, and the people who [would] always criticize him would be his own race." Martin* says that he was "taught to respect and love all people of any color ... to work hard [and] to be successful", and to give God the glory in all things. He was raised to be resilient in the face of racism, and that "racism does exist", but that should never hold him back or hinder the way he interacts with people.
Crystal* feels confidently that minorities (specifically black and Hispanic people) have a negative association in society, because of the way in which things like the media make them out to be. "We are crazy, because of the struggle and [the] fights we have had ... in order to survive. We are confrontational. We are loud. We are risk takers." She goes on to say that this unreasonable discrimination probably stems from a fear of the unknown, and a fear that minorities are a lot more capable than white people traditionally give them credit for.
Ultimately, I think everyone can agree that race does not determine behavior. We all have quirks, habits and traits that make us beautifully unique REGARDLESS of race.
Allyson* elaborates by saying, "I have found myself really working to prove to people that black girls are good, worthy people. That we don't all have 'attitudes', that we aren't all fake, that we do have real hair, [and] I don't know why I do that. Sometimes I feel like I have to." And in case people are unaware, "there are black people from all walks of life, beyond the south, beyond the 'hood', beyond whatever mold you think black women and men should fit into ... Get to know someone before you just shove them in a box."
So when you call my fiancé the "white" black guy, maybe take a moment before you let those words leave your lips. My future husband is a lot of things, including, but not limited to handsome, kind, wise, well-spoken, well-mannered, educated, gifted, patient, gracious and so much more. But he will never be white. He is black, and he is incredible. But suggesting that his blackness makes him harsh, angry, abusive or anything else is a very obvious and disgustingly racist thing to assume or imply, no matter how good your intentions may be. Let him be the wonderful man that he is without adding color into equation of determining his value. The phrases "pretty for a black girl", "smart for a black guy" and countless others degrade people and ultimately degrade huge groups of people causing intricate damage within our society. They are only words, but sometimes words leave the biggest wounds of all.