Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Acting White: Where Da White Girls At?*

Young white boys have been pursuing my now 18 year old daughter since she, and they, were ‘puber-tized’. I never thought much about it since all I cared about was her feeling good about herself, and I know white males to be no more, or less, doggish than other men. Besides, if her school is predominantly white, it makes no sense that she should sit the relationship ‘bench’, because of some arbitrary notion that people should only mix with their ‘own’.

Now my son is thirteen, and the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak. He too attends a predominantly white school and is learning where he wants to direct his attentions. At his track meet last weekend I noticed him chatting it up with a cute little white girl. I recall her standing next to him in his class photo. He says they are just friends and I believe him, but he will one day realize that there are friends and then there are ‘friends’.

Later that day over a burger, he asked me why the black girls were so forward. “How can they say they are in love with me when they barely know my name”, he asked. I said kids from different schools/neighborhoods have different behaviors based upon local customs. He said he preferred the girls at his school as they are not so ‘pushy’, and included that he thinks being attracted to someone’s race is stupid. He also has noticed that the more he keeps his distance, the greater the interest the girls, black and white, have in him, while pursuit invites rejection. This does not make sense, he says. Welcome to the real world son – more questions than answers.

Our society has all manner of diverging notions on whether his interracial considerations, such as they are, are healthy for him and/or good for the world. I like that he seems to take pride in being black, and the uniqueness it holds, even though being different has its drawbacks. He catches it from both sides at times, not black enough and not white. Most black kids feel this, as their thirst for opportunities forces them to choose between staying culturally safe and limited at home and venturing out into the world.

Some people ask me why we spend so much time talking about race. The answer is that much of what we think we know is not helpful, and our kids need more than made-up idealism, in either direction. The only way to have fresh sensible responses is that we continue to give these issues the attention, which their importance merits, including the risk of talking about it ‘too’ much.

James C. Collier

*Author's Note: The title was taken from Clevon Little in Mel Brook's "Blazing Saddles".


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MuscleDaddy said...

When I was in college, some student-sub-committee decided to do a 'program' about interracial couples - being a very small school there were only 5 of us (couples), so getting us all onto one lecture hall-stage was easy.

What wasn't easy was listening to some of the questions - it was pretty divided between "how do they kiss on your planet?" and "at what point did you decide to become traitors to your respective races?".

By the time it was over, we all felt like we were from another planet - in the end it worked out, though.

People loosened-up on us on a day-to-day basis afterward, and our now-sub-class of couples (who'd mostly just nodded @ each other before that) became tight through the rest of our college careers.

Talk about a 'sense of uniqueness' that can get you through...

- MD

Anonymous said...

I love it! Your a good dad. You seem to communicate with your children the same way I do. Open and inviting... listening.. then throwing tidbits in here and there but allowing them to develop their ideas.

Last but not least... any man who can punch a Blazing Saddles blast in a post is down right a mastermind to me!

Keep up the good work James!

Anonymous said...

Hrm. I know a lot about the dynamics of black-white interracial relationships but the truth would be too explosive for both races to handle. It's not easy as "black is beautiful" and there are big class considerations. Unfortunately this subject is extremely touchy for too many people - notice how white nationalist blogs go crazy about black-white rape statistics; notice how black women hate talking about the fact that upwardly mobile black men continue to take whiter and whiter mates.

Vince Spence said...

I am assuming you include your son in these sentiments.

...since all I cared about was her feeling good about herself...

Yet, you have guaranteed another generation of African-Americans must be subjected to feeling different or 'less than' every time they enter a restaurant, walk on campus or even go to the mall.

History must never forget slavery and the abominable treatment of blacks since their arrival on this continent. However, if you keep drumming it into the minds of your children about the 'plight of blacks', they will assume since whites do not have a plight, they are inherently different and will look to be treated differently for their entire lifetime. Sooner or later, that cycle must stop.

Or, you could ask your son and daughter what they are going to buy with their reparation checks...

Adrianne F said...

As an African American women in a interracial relationship, I appreciate the conversation you had with your son and the honesty in it. I wish that someone could have had that type of conversation with me while I was in middle or high school because it seems that the neighborhood/schools that I attended are a very similar situation to what you children are experiencing now. I especially identify with your daughter because I feel that a black woman with a white man is a less frequent occurrence and often draws more looks than the black male, white female phenomena.

The statement "He catches it from both sides at times, not black enough and not white" struck me because this is something that I've had to struggle, especially in middle and high school. I've found that eventually you just have to let your race be part of who you are, but not define you. I know this is harder when you experience comments from people (black and white) regarding their surprise of your “proper speech” or “sophisticated way of carrying yourself” as some level of ignorance.

Keep up the good writing.

DaveinHackensack said...

It's good to hear that your children are in demand socially and have healthy self-esteem. You sound like a good father.

Now when are you going to turn your Harvard-trained mind on the problem of how to provide meaningful employment for the residents of Detroit? Since you raised the issue, I figured you'd have some ideas about potential solutions. No?

James C. Collier said...

Hey Dave, I thought I asked you what Mayor Bing should do? I'm not sure. Unfortunately, the opportunity for betterment initiatives is challenged in direct relation to age of the person affected. Early childhoood development, like Head-Start, represent the greatest leverage. The habitually un/under-employed are another matter. Cultural remediation is the greatest need, as it thwarts other development programs, but victim pathologies block even the hint of adaptive programming.
Simply put, Detroit needs to shrink to a much smaller incorporation, via bulldozer. The people need to be trained/re-trained and relocated to public works and ultimately to private industry, which needs incentives to hire rather than outsource. Not easy.

Anonymous said...

Why would private industry hire people with no educational skills and poor work habits; and with a sense of entitlement? These reasons are some of why US companies have went offshore.

brohammas said...

Your kids are learning interracial navigation early.
I went the rounds over at Siditty's blog on how black and white cultures flirt differently. They told me white people were less forward because they were racist. If this were the case my whole childhood was filled with a ritual of self hatred, as "yo can I get your number would have promted a slap in the face and Becky telling all her friends how lame you were. So we played the game.

When it came to dating my wife, a black woman, she was intrigued by my laid back approach while in person, yet I still managed to arrange for us to repeatedly be in the same place at the same time.
Guess it worked, that was ten years and two kids ago.

GoldenAh said...

The only thing that's important is that regardless of "race" these young men and women treat one another with respect, courtesy, and grace. That seems to be lacking in a number of people these days. It is appalling how acceptable bad manners is.

And there is way too much friends-with-benefits-mindset (and disease swapping) today. "Everybody does it" is not a valid excuse for any kind of silly behavior.

Black on Campus said...

Interesting. A lot of people find that it's the exact opposite, especially in college and graduate school. That's what I've heard from a lot of the Black men I know. Interesting.