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A Conversation about Race

I would like to converse with you. This might sound like a strange way to start a potentially emotionally charged discussion on racism, but I feel that this is the only way to reach out, reach in, and reflect on the way that societies around the world racialize people. Now, the process of racialization (or the creation of racial categories) can originate from a biological, cultural, or ethnic premise. Contrary to assumptions about consistency, race means different things in different places; plus, someone can be one race in one community or country, and another one halfway around the world. Regardless of the social construction of race, race, as a term and a concept, means something to nations, communities, and people. Racism, the manifestation of the belief that one racial group is culturally, politically, or intellectually superior to another, can manifest itself through individual acts of discrimination or even institutional doctrines or policies that perpetuate the sense that one racial group should have power over another.

But not here; and not in this community.

Here, in this community, bonds have formed across racial, cultural, and national boundaries. Here, in this community, friendships have blossomed, love has formed, and families reach out to each other to steady the rockiness of life. Here, in this community, you matter. Who you are matters. You matter not so that anyone can determine if they should have power over you. You matter simply because you are you.

But who are you? When you look in the mirror, who stares back at you with eyes full of wonder, mystery, and knowledge? If you had to describe yourself, what community, race, or cultural terms would you use for yourself? When other people or institutions in the community describe you, what racial terms do they give for the complexity of your lived experience? Do you use the same descriptions as others? If not, why do you think there are differences?

Let this moment be one where you narrate your story. Tell me about you.
 

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Welcome to the first exercise of our workshop. We're thrilled that you decided to join us on this journey. Amy (georgia) has generously offered to moderate the workshop with me. She will be approving posts on Wednesday's and we will try to complete this exercise by April 16, 2007. This will give us a week to summarize and review the exercise. Please feel free to come to us with any questions or concerns, we're looking forward to getting to know you all better


Before you begin, please take a moment to read the guidelines (quoted below). You will be aloud only one post per exercise - if you make a mistake after you submit it, let georgia or I know and we'll help you out.

Gently,

Jacque

Quote:

Racism: a moment of reflection and healing

MotheringDotCommune is pleased to announce Racism: a moment of reflection and healing, an interactive racism workshop for our members, moderators and administrators.

I'd like to introduce our facilitator, Karen Salt. Karen is a Mothering "Ask the Expert," author, doula, childbirth educator, race and diversity consultant, and scholar focusing on race, slavery, gender, and revolution.

This will be an interactive monthly workshop that will last approximately 6 months. We have organized the workshop by setting up a moderated forum called Racism: a moment of reflection and healing. At this time, only the facilitators and administrators will be able to start threads and all posts will be moderated. Our moderator georgia has generously offered to assist.

Each month we will present an exercise to the community. An opening statement will be made along with an outline of the exercise. We may also record a pod cast to compliment the monthly topic. Karen Salt will summarize and comment at the end of each workshop, then submit the next exercise.

The exercise will remain open to posting for three weeks. Members' posts will be reviewed and approved by the moderator once a week until the exercise is complete.

The posting guidelines will be:
  • Only one post per member, per exercise
    • You may edit your post after it has been approved
    • Additional posts will be deleted without notice
  • Please do not start threads in this forum; they will also be deleted without notice
  • Members' posts must respect our current user agreement
    • The moderator may ask for edits if posts are not in compliance with our current user agreement
  • We will not allow threads/discussions discussing the workshop elsewhere on the boards, as this should be a time of reflection and healing. Side conversations would be counterproductive.
  • Do not quote or discuss members' responses to the workshop within the exercise or elsewhere on the boards. The purpose of the workshop is to look inward and reflect on your personal experience
  • Please do not copy any part of this workshop on MDC or elsewhere on the web
Please see the resources stickie if you would like to do further independent study. These resources are being compiled from member contributions and outside sources. They do not reflect a specific tone on the workshop; they are simply suggestions. If you have a resource you would like added, please email it to Jacque Savageau at [email protected]

We would also like to make a call for action to our members and challenge you to find examples of programs within your own communities committed to making a difference in racism awareness. These would be programs that put a positive spin on combating racism and show how small steps made can make a big difference. Please use this time for positive action and consider making a pledge to live in a world that does not let racism or other power dynamics rule your life.

The workshop is very organic and we're hoping to learn as we go and make adjustments as needed to suit the needs of our community. We're excited to see where it takes us as an online Natural Family Living community and we look forward to getting to know everyone better.
 

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If I had to describe myself....this is harder than I thought. I am afraid my answer isn't very inspired, and it was harder to be accurate than I thought.

I am a part of few communities, used to be part of the theatre community, I am currently a part of online communities. Community is a concept I don't really see existing much anymore, so I have a hard time labeling myself as part of a community.

Racially, I see myself as caucasian. Primarily of European descent, fairly plain. As a US Citizen, I am one of many who claim Irish descent. Certainly not special. "White bread" as some would call it.

Cultural terms? Also hard for me. It has been drummed into my head that white Americans of European descent really have no culture. And truthfully I don't. I call myself Jewish, but I am not observant, it is merely how I was raised. I know the stories, some of the language, and some of the religion. I call myself Jewish out of habit as much as anything. I have no family traditions, no real cultural ties, no historical ties. Culturally, I exist in the here and now, as me, as a part of my immediate family. That sounds sad.

As far as other people describing me - the box checked on official forms is always "White/Caucasian." I am pretty sure that is the only institutional description there is for me, and the only one that would be recognized. If others described me racially, white is the extent of the description. I use that to describe myself as well.

Does white describe who I am? The "complexity of my lived experience"? No. But labels seldom do. A pencil can be many things: yellow, soft lead, hard lead, round, hexagonal, mechanical, with an eraser....but all of those things are recognizable as a pencil. Labels are useful to categorize things, to make sense of things, but not as total descriptors.

I don't describe myself often beyond the general. White, brown hair, blue eyes, 5'8" tall, female. Occasionally I add things like mama, knitter, artist, stage manager, wife. In describing myself I use objective terms that are merely adjectives or labels for what I do.

Ah, my first edit.

I wanted to add that my ability to *just* be white is a luxury. A luxury granted because I am white, because I never really had to think about it. My failure to describe myself comes not from a place of not caring, or not knowing, but from the fact that I was never called upon to do so to satisfy someone else. I was secure in being white, and never had that called into question. My identity as female has caused me slightly more problems as I was always a little too much of something for a girl...too tall, too rowdy, too loud, too good at using tools.
 

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My story is a familiar one to many people of mixed heritage

Having darker skin and wild curly hair people often made assumptions, incorrectly regarding my race or actually ask about it. It is something my sisters and I have always sort of laughed about.

Is it actually polite to randomly ask strangers, "What are you?" Glibly retorting, "I am a Pomeranian!" never really seemed to satisfy them, so I wonder.

At some point I did get sarcastic. Growing up in "Indian Country," one wouldn't think we would have stood out but we did somehow, the frizzy hair throws people off.

I am Native American, American Indian, First Nations, whichever, I don't really bother worrying over terms. Much of my time is trying to ensure the survival of my tribe and I do not have the luxury of arguing over the little things. When speaking with other NAs I say "Native," or the name of my tribe when referring to myself.

At some point people decided to call my tribe Delaware after the Delaware river which is how we are known today. The word Delaware appears on our seals, on our flags and what we are known as by the the BIA.

We never use that amongst ourselves or in our hearts. We are Lenape. I am Unami Lenape.

To the Government I am "blah blah blah legal decendant of blah blah blah on the rolls of blah blah blah on blah blah reservation in blah blah year." God forbid they admit I *am* NA, "decendant of NAs" is the legal jargon for those they are hoping will just go away and get out of their hair, rather than do things like sue them and win.

I am also Irish, with some mixed European heritage. I have some far distant cousins in England who some of my family members have met. My family moved to America in the 1700s. My English cousins were delighted and amazed to meet their Indian cousins as my family was delighted to meet them.

We still email one another now and then. Our experiences are very different as a result of the choices of our ancestors at that moment. It is a very long time, but when we communicate it is as if it was merely decades we have been separated rather than centuries.

I sometimes wonder if my (several greats) grandfather as he was getting on that boat would ever imagine that his decendants would be communicating with the decendants of the family members he was leaving behind.

As a Native it is impossible not to experience racism as it is a branch of my government.

However, it is sometimes so insidious you barely recognize it.

My daughter came home from school, they had watched Peter Pan during their movie treat and she was doing "war cries" out the windows on the way home.

"Darling, real Indians do not do that. You are a Real Indian not a fake Indian."

I haven't heard her do that since, dd seems to like the idea of being a "real Indian" more than "war cries", but I am still upset that film was chosen. Why would they do that? Why would this film be seen as appropriate?

As a parent, I tend to notice things more. In my care-free days, I might just have avoided something that bothered me but now I am more vocal in my dissent.

I do not want my daughter to have the same experiences, the same feelings that I did.
 

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Wow, this is really tough.

When I look in the mirror, who do I see looking back at me?

I see a woman who is unsure, confused, and insecure most of the time. Someone how doesn't even really know who she is, to be honest. But this is an exercise about race, isn't it? Okay, racially I identify as caucasian. I am a wonderful mix of Italian, German, Scottish, and English. When people ask I usually claim Italian as my main heritage since that is where the majority of my ancestors come from.

This hasn't always been easy though. I grew up in a 99% caucasian area. Most had much lighter skin that I do, and I'm still pretty light. I was taunted because of my darker skin, darker hair, and darker eyes. Even though I was caucasian like the rest, I never really felt like I fit in. Still, I know I had it easier than other races, even though I didn't know it at the time.

When I was a teenager we moved to a different town. This town was much more diverse, thanks in part, I believe, to being home to Wesleyan University. I no longer had the darkest skin in town, yet I still never fit in. Suddenly I was TOO white for the Italian community (and there was a large one). Beat up if ever I claimed Italian as my heritage. Each race seemed to keep to themselves, thogh in retrospect I figure there must have been some cross over, but it didn't seem it at the time. And I didn't belong anywhere.

From what I know now I know I had it easy growing up, but it sure didn't feel like it at the time.

Governmentally I'm "white/caucasian".

As for other people describing me... I really don't know. "That white girl", I suppose. I feel very small and insignificant.

I'm sorry this isn't as eloquent as some will be, but I think I answered the question.
 

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Who am I? That's such deep question and one I'm not sure I can answer completely. When I was a child I was told I was white. We lived in a suburb of Detroit which has a very large African American population, but the city I grew up in was 'white'. We had a few people from India that worked at a local hospital and a few Jewish families, but our neighborhood - our city was mostly white Christians and I blended right in with my blond hair and pale blue eyes. I was taught that racists were people in white sheets that burned crosses on people's lawns - I was not a racist, or was I?

That was me as a child. I moved out when I was 17. All I could afford was a small flat in a culturally diverse area. It was an amazing experience. I remember embracing the diversity; I was excited to learn about my new community. I loved going to ethnic restaurants and small shops, I was thirsty to learn. My family was terrified that I was living in such an area, but I was growing, waking up, breathing in life. I was also realizing that I was raised a racist and had no clue.

I think I'm viewed by others as an American Caucasian, but I don't see myself that way - in fact I don't like that classification at all. What makes an 'American' or a Caucasian? Who are Americans? I'm constantly questioning this. Maybe this workshop will bring me closer to an answer?

My grandma was from Czechoslovakia. She was a proud, strong independent woman and I always admired her. She was extremely proud of her heritage and loved to teach me about it. She was involved in the Slovak Ladies Society of Detroit and I often attended meetings with her. We were going to go visit Czechoslovakia when I was 14, but there was unrest overseas and we had to cancel the trip. She died shortly after that and I miss her terribly.

I think I identify myself most as European American. My dad's family was all from Czechoslovakia and my mom's family was all from England and Ireland. When I look in the mirror, I see my European and American heritage.
 

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"When you look in the mirror, who stares back at you with eyes full of wonder, mystery, and knowledge?"

Unplucked eyebrows and two dark marks from fading zits. Dark circles under the eyes and hair falling out from a pregnancy. Do I look thirty? Are those prominent cheekbones or hollow cheeks? I don't see my big genetic marker features because I'm used to them.

"If you had to describe yourself, what community, race, or cultural terms would you use for yourself?"

I use accurate descriptions. I am not keeping them up here, but I talk about my ancestors, wherever they were from. I do not use broad terms like "native" or "hispanic" or "white".

I was raised in the Pacific Northwest and I love our culture. I identify more with that culture than with any "color" group.

***

"When other people or institutions in the community describe you, what racial terms do they give for the complexity of your lived experience?"

In the US, people didn't know how to label me. People used to come up and ask me, "What are you?"

Abroad, I'm a foreigner.

"Do you use the same descriptions as others? If not, why do you think there are differences?"

No. There are differences because Americans stop listening after we get to the 1/16ths. They don't want a person or a history, I feel, they want a label. "A mutt," they usually interrupt. At best, "A very nice mix," they say.

I don't accept broad labels. The groups I belong to are too important to me to shove them into vague or historical boxes. Especially because I am not enough of anything to be considered one of them.
 

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But who are you? When you look in the mirror, who stares back at you with eyes full of wonder, mystery, and knowledge? If you had to describe yourself, what community, race, or cultural terms would you use for yourself? When other people or institutions in the community describe you, what racial terms do they give for the complexity of your lived experience? Do you use the same descriptions as others? If not, why do you think there are differences?

Let this moment be one where you narrate your story. Tell me about you.


This is harder than I thought it would be. Who am I? I still don't know a lot of the time. While I know this exercise is about race, I find a lot of who I am, who I was, who I am trying to be, who I am trying to escape from is wrapped up in how I was raised, or not raised. I spend a great deal of time and energy trying not to be my mother.

Communities...well, there are church communities. I am a fairly traditional Catholic married to a Lutheran pastor. In trying to dip my toes in both ponds, I often find that I don't really fit into either. I belong to a wonderful Catholic homeschool community. I am a LLL volunteer, and am part of that community as well, although I feel much more isolated since we have moved to this town than I did before. I used to be very active in the theater community. We have a birth circle community I would like to be more active in, but it hasn't really happened. And there's the MDC community, where there are communities within the community--the moderators, the Waldorf homeschool mamas, the Lactivists, the people-I-know-from-another-board-as-well, the Harry Potter fan fiction mamas.

Race and culture...I am white and Irish Catholic. There's not much more to say than that. I don't feel like I have a terribly complex lived experience, other than the fact that I come from a long line of rabid racists and I work hard to look at my own perceptions and challenge the ways I was brought up to think.

I'm not sure if there's a disparity between how I view myself and how others view me. If anything, I think people tend to be more charitable towards me than I am towards myself. I do view myself as someone who is deeply interested and invested in multicultural and anti-bias education and experience. I sometimes feel like this isn't legitimate because I am a white middle-class woman and because I was not brought up this way, but right or wrong, it's something I strive towards and am passionate about.
 

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Thank you so much for hosting this workshop. I have been wanting something like this for a long time without knowing exactly what it is that I've wanted. I am looking forward to learning and being a part of this healing environment.

I am Mo. I was born in TN in the mid1970s. I am an African American. I grew up being a Black American, and in some ways, I prefer that label partly because that is what I learned and became proud of as a young person and partly because black does not allow for the misperception that I am anything other than American.

This is important to me because my family has been in this country for a very long time. I recently read my family tree, uncovered by one of my cousins many times removed. She traced my maternal grandmother's roots back to a black slave woman who was married to a slave man. The woman's sons were fathered by the white master whose name was William. The woman's husband was also named William which implies that he was also the slave master's son. This woman's son, who is my great great great grandfather was born in 1815 into slavery.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Memphis; it's in the heart of the city, but it wasn't "urban" like people think with traffic, crime, and density. It's the South and so it was tame and actually quite charming. Most houses were small (3 bedroom in 1200 sq ft) single family homes with a porch and a front and back yard. People sat on their porches and watched the kids play. My neighbors were almost all black, with the exception of one or two white mothers of biracial children. It was just post-civil rights and most houses held three generations of family members. Extended family was just family. There were lots of us and we got together almost every weekend at my house where I lived with my mom, sister, and grandmother. Eating was (and still is) very important to us. We grew tomatoes in the backyard and fried them with fat back on Saturday mornings and ate it with biscuits and molasses. We BBQed ribs and chicken.

The dirty secret of living in a segregated black community is what some call the "color complex." Light skin and long straight or loosely curled hair was blatantly preferred and rewarded while dark skin and kinky hair were denegrated. The conditioning starts at birth when people check babies' cuticles and ears for the darkest possible pigment, the color the baby will eventually achieve in her face and body. From there, people are pigeon-holed, pretty or ugly. Children tease, adults either fawn over a light-skinned child or berate a dark one. Light-skinned babies are automatically good babies, but it's way too easy for people to find fault with an equally good dark-skinned baby. I've seen and heard some nasty things projected on kids by colorist adults. I beg my family to stop the ignorance, but it's so deeply ingrained that they slip into it without a second thought.

My sister was pretty. She was also smart. She really was these things, but what it meant in the context of our family, neighborhood, and school was that she had light-skin (lighter than a brown paper bag) and "good hair" soft ringlets that held their shape instead of frizzing into a big afro like mine. She was the object of too much objectification and it did not serve her well. Being pretty became an end in itself, but there's more to the story than just colorism.

I was average. I had medium brown skin that could not pass the paper bag test and thick tight rings. My hair was always a problem for my mother. I sweat too much and so I could never keep it silky straight after it was pressed with the hot comb. Today I wear it just as it is and I love it. My grandmother, on the other hand, hates it. I hate the hot comb.

My sister and I did not know that we were black until I was 6 and she was 7. This is a good thing because kids should not have to confront race. They just shouldn't. The way it happened was that there was a man driving a white van who was abducting kids in our neighborhood. It was on the news everyday for about a week or so. I just remember that it was big horrifying news. My sister and I were latchkey kids and so my mom told us to be careful coming home and to not talk to strange men. We reassured her that the man was only taking black kids, not people like us. She asked us what we were and my sister said beige and I said brown. We knew color, not race. Black meant people with very dark skin, the kind that was ridiculed in my neighborhood. She told us that we were black. And so the racial learning began, as well as solidifying the reason for the color divide.

I was a difficult child for my mother to understand because I did not believe the negative messages about my race as they should have applied to me. I always believed that I should have opportunities that white people had and that I could have white friends and live somewhere other than Memphis. I did not want to live in segregation and feel the oppression of colorism. I wanted to be Somebody like the civil rights chant declared. I had big dreams for myself and in some ways, my daydreaming made my mother very angry with me. I still don't understand why, but I'm coming to understand that she equated my desire for something different with a rejection of her.

In 8th grade, I was tired of my school. My sister and I were tracked to the advanced classes from a very early age and we did very well. School was dull. I wanted to learn more. I wanted more autonomy and responsibility. I was stifled in my segregated school with a principal and teachers who re-enforced the message that we black students could only go so far. So I decided to apply to New England boarding schools. My sister and I got offered scholarships and so we chose one and went. Just like that our lives changed dramatically.

We went from being the smartest in the class to the ones who needed extra help. For the first time in my life, I realized just how poor and country we were. Our clothes were wrong, our accents wrong, our skin color just wrong no matter how light. We still made lots of excellent friends, but we were different people. We realized our anxieties and handled them very differently. My sister developed clinical depression. I was targeted by some girl on my hall for a racist note written anonymously, and I also became depressed. I was 14 and I discovered a deep resiliance that has allowed me to overcome discrimination, even though it has not stopped finding me.

I graduated from that school having held some very high leadership positions including class president, student council officer, and prefect. I went to a Southern prestigious university and met racism all over again. It was blatant and nasty and I spent 4 years drinking like my grandparents and hating white people. I was isolated and lonely. I became more depressed. I graduated from there with mediocre grades and a very low sense of myself and my worth. I went to graduate school.

In graduate school, I had found the freedom I was looking for to just be me. I stopped relaxing my hair. I stopped having sex with boys who didn't like me as much as I liked them. I stopped being self-conscious thanks to an excellent therapist. I still drank too much. I still was targeted for racism, but this time it was different. I was one of few black students in most of my classes. The security guards in the buildings were always black and they always noticed me and made sure to check my ID. White students slipped by because the guards never bothered to distinguish one from the other. Being black made me more conspicuous and an easier target. Everywhere I went, I was asked to prove that I belonged there. I was followed in stores and had my bag searched when I left. White professors confused me with the other black girl in the department. But I was resilient and I knew how to make friends. I had friends of all races and walks of life just as I did at my high school. I was still me, the girl who loved to learn and had a nice smile.

I graduated from there, the first black american woman to receive a PhD in that department. It was 2001. I moved to DC where I had an internship in my field. I was 26. I met a 39 yo white guy from the Midwest who really like talking to me. I thought he was funny, so we talked everyday at work. For a while, I didn't have any white guy friends, so I was happy that I had this new relationship blossoming because it was important to me to have all sorts of people represented among my close friends. He had an interesting perspective and I learned some things from him. One April day, he asked me to go hiking with him, cliche, I know. We went and he asked me to be his girl. We've been together 5 years this month, married 4.

Marrying him made me confront a lot of racial baggage that I had as well as made me yet another target of racism from his family. I remember in my militant days wanting to marry a black man, of course, and never ever considering a white guy. I had only dated black men. I kissed one white guy in college after drinking a bottle of wine with him at happy hour. He asked me for a kiss. It was sweet and I think he really liked me, but it was the wrong place for either of us to cross the divide. Even kissing on West End Blvd was a big deal, a really big deal.

So here I am married to this white guy from a family of people who consider themselves to be the true Americans. They have the American accent, they are the All American blonde, blue-eyed heartlanders. And yet my family has lived here longer than his. They treated me as peripheral, like I was a midlife crisis for him. But I am not. I am his wife and the mother of his children.

My children are wonderful. I am a mother of 2 biracial children: a girl who has white skin, hazel eyes with flecks of blue and grey, and blonde curls, and a son who has chocolate eyes, brown skin, and not much hair to speak of. My children look just alike. Not many people can see it because they can't see past color, but they have the exact same face. They have the same shaped head, same eyes, eyebrows, nose, chin, and lips. And they have many more of my facial features than my DH's but people who can't see beyond color say that my DD looks just like my DH and DS looks just like me. They look like both of us in interesting ways. They are a special blend.

What being in an interracial relationship and being the mother of a DD who people think is white has meant is that I am now "on the list." The list is the names of blacks who married whites. It's a disgrace to be on the list. Black people used to scoff at me when they found out that DD was my daughter instead of some little white girl that I babysit. They say things like, She looks like her dad, even though they've never seen her father. One man told me that I should be ashamed to have that "white baby." I looked at him with defiances, but then I came home with my 4 month old baby and cried my eyes out. I was so happy to be pregnant and so happy to have an unmedicated birth. I was so in love with my baby because she was mine and I nursed her day and night with a determination to give her the best of me. And some f'ing stranger spit shame at us. We didn't do anything to anybody. I didn't care what she looked like, but it seemed that everyone else did. They made me and my baby the object of way too much attention. I had to draw on my strength and I held tight to my baby who is as black as she is white, and if you know the black community, you know that her features are not unique by a long stretch. Remember my story about my slave ancestors. There is plenty of white in my family, hence the problematic colorism.

All of this makes me a black woman who can make a friend easily and an enemy just as easily. My identity is too complicated for people to stereotype me. I am the youngest and only black woman in my position in my entire department at work. All other young black women are secretaries and so people mistake me for the one who makes copies in meetings. I don't get coffee for anybody, not even myself since I'm BFing. I make a point of directing requests to my white male assistant. Some black people decide that they can't like or trust me because I have a white husband but they drool over my DD's pictures. She is granted a special black status in spite of her father, but mine is diminished because of him. White people are more likely to befriend me when my husband and DD are around. White people love her and we have been asked several times to arrange dates and even marriage with white american families. I wish I were exaggerating. So her blackness is not a genetic problem like mine was for my husband's family because you can't see it. Hispanics like to tell me that my DD does not look like me. They ask me if I am the nanny of this pretty baby.

In my neighborhood, I am isolated from the poor blacks who live in the projects. I am a part of the "families association" that is almost all white, upper middle class and well educated. We were invited during Halloween, but the other black family with the rowdy kids who look as poor and country as I did growing up were not invited. I understand why Washington,DC is one of the most segregated cities in the US because I can't find a black girlfriend to save my life. I feel very sad about that. I love being black and I share what I consider to be my culture with my DC. I wish I had more black friends close by. My one best friend lives in Indiana. She is married to a Japanese man. We have lots to talk about and have huge phone bills.

I am a woman who loves diversity and people. Even though I lament my lack of black female girlfriends, I love all of my friends. I get to be just me, just Mo, with them. I need that after dealing with society as a black woman who goes where she does not belong.
 

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This exercise is pretty scary for me. So I hope you'll have patience with what I have to say.

I'm going to answer with my best thoughts and realize that this answer changes frequently as time goes on and is an extremely simplified version of who I am. These really aren't directly race related, but I am sure that I have been shaped by race. I'm a mother, a wife, and a naturalist. I am very spiritual and find my comfort in nature. I am a very open person who tends to wear my heart on my sleeve. I have a temper that I have worked on controlling for my whole life. I love to laugh and to make other people laugh. I also use that to cover up insecurities. Okay, so that's the short list.

The racial terms used to describe me in the community would be caucasian and very Irish looking. I have auburn hair, pale skin with freckles and brown eyes. I am constantly told that I must have very strong Irish genes. I do have some, but what's interesting are the things that you would never be able to tell about my ancestry by looking at me.

My grandmother and her family were from Puerto Rico. So in reality, my racial ties to Ireland are a whole lot further back than my ties to Puerto Rico. But by looking at me, you'd never know that.

I never even knew that could be an issue until I was visiting my best friend's house in 6th grade. It turns out, it wasn't going to be the enjoyable dinner I was hoping for. Her father carried on and on about the "*****" at the lake near their house: the way they looked, the way they talked, how they were ruining the beach. It went on for about 20 minutes, the whole time my best friend trying to kick her dad under the table and the tears filling up my eyes. Finally, he turned to me and asked the same old question, "so you're ancestors must be from Ireland, right?" I answered some of them were, but that my grandmother was from Puerto Rico. The backtracking that took place was amazing, even to a 11 year old. He didn't mean me or my family, he just meant the "lower class."


I love the look on some people's faces when they hear that. Suddenly they look really carefully at me, as if they can see the underlying Puerto Rican side. Or the "wow, you don't look it or sound like it." One of my "friends" from college thought it was cute to call me the Mc'****. Adorable, huh?
: Just imagine the looks and comments when I tell them that my great grandfather was from Jamaica!
Sometimes I find the reactions amusing, kind of like a sick social experiment.

I've even gotten the comments from my great aunts, who are also from Puerto Rico, about how pale I am, how it doesn't look like me or my sisters could possibly be from their same blood lines. Like the way we look is bad, but on the other hand, I get told how lucky I am, because I don't have to deal with the prejudice about being Puerto Rican. I know that is true, but still, to have your own family make comments about not letting me out in the sun with my cousins because I might burst into flames can get old.

So usually when people ask me "what are you?" I just say I'm lots of things. If they want to dig deeper I tell them. I get pretty tired of the comments and the looks and then the dismissal, after all, I just look caucasian. People usually think of it as an amusing anecdote about me.

So do I use the same descriptions that everyone else would use to describe me? No. I don't really have a specific description for myself. When I fill out paperwork, I always put Caucasian, because there isn't a spot for mutt.
 

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But who are you? When you look in the mirror, who stares back at you with eyes full of wonder, mystery, and knowledge?
This is a very difficult question for me to answer and I'm not really sure why. I am simple person I think but I am always looking for the unexposed in my life, the stuff under the surface.

If you had to describe yourself, what community, race, or cultural terms would you use for yourself? When other people or institutions in the community describe you, what racial terms do they give for the complexity of your lived experience?
I describe myself as Irish-American. I am proud of my Irish heritage but in America that make me "just white." In some ways I am just fine with that but in other ways I'm honestly not so sure. My family is not "old school" in the USA so I am only the second generation born here on my mom's side and third on my dad's. Being Irish American certainly does have a sub-culture all its own and having others around who were raised by Irish-American parents (and being passed down that Irish "baggage") is helpful.
On the other hand, I am very involved in the Unitarian-Universalistic church and a whole lot of my personal (non-family of origin) identity is wrapped up in that. I am a UU and I don't mind carrying that as a label of surface description.

Do you use the same descriptions as others?
No I think most people who see me think...ahh a white, upper-middle class liberal who has more opinions than she can actually back-up with action...

If not, why do you think there are differences?
I don't look like I am on the inside...my personality is not worn on my sleeve. You can tell who I am by looking at me.
 

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I would call myself "racially" Jewish. I havn't kept up with the Jewish community, but I will always consider myself to be a member of the Jewish people. My family origins are from Eastern Europe, so I also consider myself "racially" white. And I was part of a Freckle Fan club in middle school, 'cause yup, I got them too!

I've lived on several continents (Europe, Africa, N. Am), and for many years really lost touch with my racial identity. I was sometimes part of a dominant culture, and sometimes part of a minority culture, based on skin tone, but because I was a visiting resident I really gave up my identity as anything other than me - interested student of life.

I think when I check "caucasian" on paperwork, I'm ok with that. I do consider myself "white", especially living in a more urban environment where the racial lines are fairly clear.
 

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Interesting questions.
Because of conditions surrounding my adoption, I don't know my racial make up. People have guessed that I may be of middle eastern or latin decent. I can't tell them if they are correct or not. Whenever I'm asked to choose a race on forms or documents, I check other.
Because of my darker skin and less than straight hair, I suspect that at least one of my biological parents was a person of color or bi-racial. I think of myself as a chameleon. I can "pass" just enough to employ "white privelage". I can also "pass" just enough to date men of color with no overt criticisms.

When I view myself, I see a rejected child. A child that wants to be mothered, cuddled, thought of as special. Someone who was thrown out like yesterdays garbage and forgotten about. I think these feelings stem from my time in foster care and being adopted. That coupled with the fact that many fixate on my racial identity but rarely seem that interested in really getting to know me. Isolating.

It is my belief that the child protection services of the US have a bias against families of color. The department of human resources post stats that don't support the over representation of children of color in thier custody. I believe that this industry acts with a racist attitude towards many families that are not caucasian.
 

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When people take about "race" I identify myself based on my heritage and what I feel connected to which is portuguese and scottish. When I think of my family (parents, siblings, etc) that is also what I think/feel.

When people talk about religious heritage I am always torn- I am a practicing episcopalian but I feel a huge connection to my jewish roots. My siblings are all non practicing christians except one who is practicing. Half of my family (my dads side) are practicing jews even though my dad's mom was not jewish,it was his dad. His siblings converted as adults but were raised episcopalian. Before he died my father did a geneology of his father and even found relatives alive who were orthodox. It was such a life lesson reading about all of my ancestors!

However in most environments I would just be described as white. In the USA (at least in *my* experience) rarely is your heritage identified when used to describe someone within an institution/work environment with the exception of african american and asian american. I rarely hear someone described as an Italian american, or she's scottish/spanish/whatever.

In my current community I would be described/identified simply as white since my skin is white. My life experience, heritage, religion etc would never even be considered unless they knew me very well. The same goes for most Caucasians in my area unless they had overt facial features or skin tones. Nobody would assume someones race/heritage based strictly on appearance unless it is what society describes as "obvious". Even so I have noticed that people on my area are becoming even more cautious on how the describe someone they don't know. My area (finally!) is becoming much more diverse so I think everyone is becoming ( again finally!) more aware that traditional labels don't always fit.

In my hometown, where I grew up, I would be identified very much by my portuguese heritage and the fact I was born and raised there. Those things are/were* considered *very* important and outsiders are/were looked at with suspicion. In fact heritage is very much a part of this community and as a child the lines were clearly drawn by your heritage which was predominately portuguese, irish, american indian and african american. To this day I can go to the PA club and be greeted with "welcome home" even though I haven't lived there in 20+ years.
*I say "are/were" because there are still many who think this way, even some of the newer generations. However there has been a huge population growth over the last 10-15 years so that has changed some of the dynamics.

So I guess that is me in a nutshell.
 

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hmmm . . . this is a very interesting discussion, and something i've been thinking on for some time.

as far questions of race goes, for all intents and purposes, i check the caucasian box. my mothers parents, well her father was 2nd generation italian immigrant. her mother was . . . what is called a mutt. but my family identified themselves more along class lines than any kind of race or descent. we were 'poor white trash.' you know all those jokes starting with 'you might be a ******* . . .'? those were us. as such, we were in a weird place with regards to our views on race. on one hand were people like my grandfather, who worked and lived with african americans, and loved it. he appreciated and enjoyed the different take on life. on the other were folks like my uncle, who just hated anyone and everyone. many people that i met growing up were like that. it seemed like, since they didn't have much posession-wise, that they hated anyone who did.

on my fathers side, well, they're primarily english and scottish. but for some reason, whenever i meet people, they think i'm irish. being the only fair-skinned blondish (sort of a strawberry) child of more 'italian-looking' people, it was sort of interesting to see the reactions. i look nothing like my brother or sisters. or my parents.

racism itself, well, we were taught degrees of racism. sometimes it seemed like we were around people of other race/descent because it was a good thing to do, and not because we particularly liked them as people. there was always lots of bad talk. lots of racial epithets. but it was said more like a joke. it doesn't make it right, i know now, but that's how we grew up. so its something i struggle with. not because i think anyone else is 'less' or 'other', but because i don't want to seem as if i'm just being nice *because* of a particular race. (does that make sense?) thankfully, the people of different race that i have met have been extraordinarily tolerant of my often ignorant questions. they seem to know that i'm not coming from a place of meanness or intolerance, but of genuine curiosity and a desire to get behind their eyes and know how things are for them, as people and as members of a different group of people than i.

but on a great note, my family is becoming much more diverse. two of my cousins, and now my sister, have children of 'mixed heritage.' beautiful, lovely girls. my dad was appalled!
and even better, my son, the "white one" as they call him sometimes, doesn't like my dad, but my neice, the "brown one" (again, their term) is her grandpas baby.
i spent my childhood listening to his prejudices, i *love* that he has to face up to them and deal with them now.


so who do i see when i look in the mirror? i see me. 26, wife, mom, and a person with a lot of growing and learning to do. i see milky boobies and unwashed hair and bags under my eyes. i see someone who has trouble fitting into any community. (although sometimes i come close to fitting here.) i see a person determined to be the best of what i am, and to leave the rest behind like old clothes that don't fit anymore.
 

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But who are you? When you look in the mirror, who stares back at you with eyes full of wonder, mystery, and knowledge?
A young woman (I'll be 23 in a month), with tan skin, brown eyes, and short dark hair. 5'6", 124 lbs., saggy boobs, bags under the eyes, full lips, a mole on one cheek, a crossbite and yellowing teeth.

If you had to describe yourself, what community, race, or cultural terms would you use for yourself?
I'm an anarchist and a feminist. Those things inform everything I do, especially my parenting. I'm a white girl. I'm part Jewish although it's pretty irrelevant, since my Jewish grandparent converted to Christianity and didn't pass any Jewish cultural traditions down to my mom, unfortunately. Although I suspect I have some non-European ancestors on my dad's side, no one's told me anything about it, except that we "maybe have Indian blood" (I'm pretty sure they mean NA). I'm not sure if that's true or if it's a coverup for black. My partner is black, my youngest son is biracial, and I feel our interracialness when we leave the house.

When other people or institutions in the community describe you, what racial terms do they give for the complexity of your lived experience?
Most people call me white, although occasionally people ask if I'm Latina. When I go out with my son, people treat me differently-- black people are more friendly, white people less friendly. I like being seen as a race traitor. I am one.

Do you use the same descriptions as others?
Yes, I think white is very accurate. I don't feel Scottish/French/English/German/Italian/Irish. I'm a white girl with white bread parents. I've never been to Europe or met any European relatives.
 

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I wish I had interesting things to say about my race like the previous posters. I have no idea what I am. I'm white. My grandparents were white. I have no idea what nationalities they came from. I have an ordinary maiden name that could have been anything.

I grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood and my high school was about a third white, a third black, a third hispanic. I loved going to my hispanic friends' quincenieras and always wished I could have one. I always wished I understood Spanish. My black friends seemed to speak a different language when they spoke to each other. They had a little bit of sassy sophistication in their voice and in their jargon that wasn't there when they spoke to me.

My husband knows what he is. His grandparents on his mother's side spoke nothing but polish until they were adults. His grandparents on his father's side spoke nothing but Louisiana French until they were adults. Both sides have customs and traditions I love taking part in now.

I know, boohoo, poor little white girl. I've never felt discrimination. I've never felt what it was like for someone to look at me and see race. But there is a really cool thing about being part of a bigger culture that I would have liked to have experienced. If I've ever offended anyone by inquiring about race, I didn't mean to. I'm just facinated by it, and a little envious.
 

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Most other people would describe me as an average looking white woman. Nothing fancy or out of the ordinary where I live, I'm just another face. As far as cultural background, I have a variety: Irish, Swedish, Scotch Irish, Russian, English, Native American, among others. Culturally I don't really know much about my ancestral background nor do I take part in traditions that are part of my blood heritage. Which ones would I pick? I have given birth to two wonderful children even more culturally diverse than myself, which holds questions for me. How do I bring my children up to appreciate race and culture? Which ones do we celebrate? How can we be sensitive to others?

Basically I associate with being a typical North American. Part of the melting pot. I've done things pretty much the way I'm "supposed" to most of my life. The descriptions that others use to describe me would most likely be fairly accurate and unoffensive to me.
 

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Who am I...

I am the granddaughter of fiercly proud Irish immigrants. My grandfather sat me on his knee and regaled me with stories of famines, revolutions, fairies, and leprachauns, my grandmother sang Irish ballads to me until I fell asleep. They were so proud of how Irish I looked and that my mother gave me an Irish name.
I am also the granddaughter of a Swedish immigrant, who taught me to love everything pickled, and a French Canadian seamstress who tried in vain to teach me her talent. "Bah! Impossible'!"

I am the daughter of a extremely left winged liberal hippie, and a staunch right wing Republican. And it wasn't cute in a "Dharma and Greg" kind of way. It was horrific, so much so that my mother felt forced to leave the country after a very nasty divorce when I was 5 years old in order to put as many miles between herself and my father as possible. She took my brother and I to Jamaica, she married a Jamaican Rastaman, and we stayed there until 1997.
So, I grew up in rural Jamaica, I begged my mother to part and plait my long, straight blond hair like my school friends. I grew up running barefoot, climbing guinep, guava, and mango trees, playing jacks and jumprope and shooting marbles. I didn't own a stove until I was nearly 30, I washed my clothes and bathed in a river, I collected water from a village standpipe, waiting in line with the other girls, and sometimes boys, and carried the 5 gallon bucket back home on my head. I stood every morning, and sang the national anthem, "Jamaica......Jamaica......Jamaica, Land We Love!" with pride. I played Nanny of the Maroons in a school play for National Heroes Day. I played netball and field hockey. I let the other children pinch my arms so they could watch me turn white, then pink, then angry red. My favorite snacks were and still are jackass corn, grater cakes, asham, dunkanoo (or if you're feeling particularly risque, you can call them "Blue Drawers", heehee!) and peanut drops.
Once, in school, I got into trouble with some other girls for skipping Maths class and going to the farm to hang out with the Dread and partake of some of Dread's, um, Sacrament, and as punishment, Headmaster made us stand in the mid-day sun, in the common, for 4 hours. After we had the palms of our hands whipped with a leather strap. I was so sick and sunburned the next day, I couldn't go back to school for nearly a week.
So, way back then, I was "the likkle brown gyal, P. dawta." IN high school, it was especially hard for me to break the rules....I tried to stop at the market to chat with this sweet rastaman, but by the time I got home, someone already told my mother and step father.
By the time tourists started to influx the area, late 70's, early 80's, my friends realized I wasn't a "brown gyal" but I was actually white, as white as the tourists who got red (in more ways than one, hee hee!) on the beach, and they gleefully pointed this little known fact out. Suddenly, they were surprised that I knew how to wash clothes, peel dasheen and yams, cook curry and grater coconut for rice and peas, even though we had been doing it together for a decade.

So, dating, I only knew the boys I went to school with, so of course, that's who I dated. My friends, Odette and Nerine and Paulette, who were by now savvy to my whiteness, would ask me, "Don't you want a white man?"
I thought about the white guys who came to visit Jamaica and hung out at my parents bar and restaurant; red, sunburned, most often quite drunk and very high on too much high grade ganja sold to them too cheap, and who left in a week to come back in a year.
No, suh! Dem chat too funny an ah wha dem kno 'bout dumplin an yam, an dancehall an Festival! Wha me a do wid dem? Cyaan nyam fishhead, bone choke him kill him! A Yaad man me waant!

And then I got pregnant in 10th grade, hiding my pregnancy by banding my belly, while my classmates voted me Prefect. Dropped out, went to live with my baby's father in a one room house with no running water. He was a ganja man, so that's how we made our living. Every day I would hike my big belly, and then my baby, and then my second big belly and second baby, up into the mountain to the ganja field.
So, flash forward, split up, new man, 4 more kids, moved to Miami to attend midwifery school, met soon to be ex, black Panamanian, had one more baby, getting divorced....

Communities, I think I identify with several. Midwifery community for sure. Jamaican community here in Miami, definately. I tend to feel most comfortable with Jamaicans, have more in common, a shared background, growing up experiencing many of the same things, a shared sense of humor which many Americans don't find amusing. Most of the friendships I have formed here are with Jamaicans.

How does my community describe me......
I live in a predominately Black neighborhood, so I am refered to as "the white woman on G**** Ave, with all the kids, the Jamaican white woman, the midwife."
Instant recognition! I just can't hide.

Jamaican community......"C******" "Which C****** are you talking about?" "you know, white C******, the midwife".

Would I use the same descriptions, I think I have....it certainly describes me.

My kids, being multi-racial, are blessed and proud to be able to identify themselves as "Jamaicans" when anyone asks, and they do ask. They know, first and foremost, that is where they belong, where they call home, and where they will return. Race has never been an issue for them, until we moved to Miami, but they know why they are followed around the store or pulled over by the cops or thrown to the ground and searched. We have never lived anywhere else in Miami, so I don't know if their experience would have been different in a white neighborhood. They have been teased about being Jamaican, called "jerk chicken" by schoolmates or have kids talk to them in an exaggerated fake accent.

So, who am I? An Irish-looking white woman with a strong Jamaican accent who has a lot of kids and doesn't go to church and enjoys dancehall music and a room-temperature Guiness. A midwife who plans to return home and open a maternity centre so Jamaican women can have an alternative to the nightmare they call hospitals there. Someone who loves tattoos and Indian food and Bollywood movies. Someone who wishes she could dance salsa and is learning to speak Italian. A single mama (again!) of beautiful brown-skinned babies. A woman who grew up singing to Jesus in school and chanting to Haile Selassie at home, and who now would rather ask the Goddesses and Orishas for divine intervention. What I know of being "white" I learned from my grandparents, who were proud of their countries and cultures and histories and passed on much of that pride to me. The daughter of a man who refused to let me speak in front of his friends on my rare visits to see him because of my Jamaican accent, and who refused to hang pictures of my children in his home because he was ashamed of having Black grandchildren and ashamed of having a wife who left him and who now loves a Black man. The step-daughter of a gentle Rastafarian with gnarled hands and wild hair who taught me, by example, to love and respect every living being on earth, and who I watched literally take the shirt off his own back to give to a homeless man, and who showed me that it is really possible for a mortal man to be Christ-like.
Can I wrap all that up into one word?
 

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Thanks so much for the start of this workshop. By participating I hope to be able to better understand myself, but those I may come in contact w/either online or in person.
But who are you? When you look in the mirror, who stares back at you with eyes full of wonder, mystery, and knowledge?
The first thing I see when I look in the mirror is not an Black Woman, but just a woman. A woman who is still searching for who she really is, because at the age of 38, I'm not always so sure. Growing up I was very shy, and to myself and I lacked any type of self-confidence. Now that I am a mother I see a stronger, confident woman. I see a caring woman as well.

If you had to describe yourself, what community, race, or cultural terms would you use for yourself?
When other people or institutions in the community describe you, what racial terms do they give for the complexity of your lived experience?
Do you use the same descriptions as others? If not, why do you think there are differences?

I would describe myself as black. Sadly, I don't know anything about my ancestors past my great-grandmother on my mother's side. No one in my family have ever traced them and I also I do not have the same father as my older siblings, and never got to know my real father nor has my mother ever offered information. I would also rather be called a Black American rather than African American although that is the politically correct term and I know more than likely that I have ancestors in Africa, and one day I would like to go there. I just don't feel a strong connection there. I also don't have a lot of life experience. I am a pretty plain jane, small town kind of person. I've lived in the same town all my life, and my dd even goes to the same elementary school that I did. Most of my "adventures" I find in books. I love reading diffferent things, especially about slavery and how it was overcome.
 
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