Saturday, February 20, 2010

The one in which Chris says a whole lot of stupid things about race

I've often told the story of when my family first moved to Minnesota and my mother took me to register at Hubert Olson Middle School (a).

Taking in its cold, prison-like, and strangely indoor nature (my previous school, in Houston, had been mostly a collection of temporary buildings and I had assumed that to be normal), one thing in particular struck me about my new surroundings:

"Do the black kids register on a different day?" I asked the woman at the registration table.

For those of you not from the great country of Texas, this is the way Texas kids ask questions. We just say exactly what's going through our heads. I didn't learn tact until my late 20s, and would argue that it hasn't really done me any good.

Anyhoo, I was thinking about all this the other day as I sat in a café on campus, staring across the room at a shockingly attractive black woman sitting with a small group of friends. She was shockingly attractive in a "black" way, if that makes sense. That is, she wasn't attractive because she looked like an exotic version of a skinny white girl; she had dark ebony skin and those sort of features that my mind associates with being purely African. She was the sort of woman that Jill Scott would probably wax poetic about. In my head I told myself that she was Senegalese, coming to such a conclusion thanks to my idiot powers of induction and the fact that I once saw a super-hot Olympic athlete from Senegal with similar features.

So, I sat there for a while, just being transfixed by this girl -- her accent, her smile, her laugh, the flawlessness of her skin, her hair in long braids, the way she moved her hands when she spoke, and on and on.

"Obviously, I would -- in the words of Vincent Kennedy McMahon -- have no chance in hell with this girl," I thought. "The ink on my divorce papers is barely dry and although I am no good at guessing age, it's a good bet, this being a university campus, that I am roughly 10 years older than her. Unless she's really, really desperate for a U.S. visa, it's pretty safe to assume she'll have no interest in the skinny white old dude with a track record for failure. But, for the sake of argument, how would I even go about it? What would would I even say to someone like her?"

And then I caught myself. "Someone like her" -- what did I mean by that? Well, in part I mean a super-hot girl that I don't know. I just don't have that confidence to walk up and talk to people whom I've never met. And I'm not particularly good at talking to super-hot girls who I do know.

But also, in some part, I meant black. And instantly it occurred to me that already I was going about it the wrong way. Surely I shouldn't be trying to think of how best to talk to a girl according to her race. I've dated (b) girls who were Native American, Korean, Turkish, Japanese and South Asian (and white, of course), and I don't remember race ever being a part of my thought process in wanting to get to know them. I just wanted to put my hand up their shirts -- I didn't really care what colour the boobies were.

But for some reason I have a strange anxiety about black people. My anxiety is that they won't like me, that they will find me annoying and repulsive, that all the things that a black person may dislike about a white person they will see in me. And I count among the great failures of my life the fact that I have never had a black friend. Even when I was living in Texas.

This bothers me so much. I worry that it means that I am somehow racist. But if I have had and have friends who are of different races, and actively wish that I had friends who were black, and hold no negative stereotypes of black people, surely I am not racist. Am I?

Why, then, have I never had a black friend? It could just be the way of my life. I don't tend to keep a huge circle of friends, anyway. And there are plenty of other types of people I'm not friends with. French people, for instance. But the absence of black friends upsets me more than life without a pal from France.

And in being upset about it I am almost certainly making things worse. I am over-thinking it, putting too much importance on something that is wholly unimportant to me in all other cases. You don't choose your friends because of what they are, but who. The heart and mind and soul is what is important.

But still, if there are any black people reading this who would be willing to be my token black friend for the sake of my being able to get over all this anxiety, please let me know. We can go out and I'll buy you a beer -- or whatever it is that black people drink.


(a) I'd like to point out that it was not Home of the "Cougars" when I went there. Our school mascot was Loki, the Norse god of mischief. But in the late 1990s batshit crazy evangelical Christians suddenly took offence at the idea of a "pagan" mascot and the name was changed to something far less original to better reflect the creatively stifling nature of a Midwestern suburb.

(b) Use of the word "date" here is a bit of a stretch. The Japanese girl and I made out and then I got sick in her bed.


Rose said...

Personally, I have more white friends than other race friends.

I've also never had a black boyfriend, which made my dad (whom is mostly black) almost accuse me of being racist. Which is weird in itself, as I'm a mixed girl.
I just explained to him that I was attracted to nerds, which he agreed that white boys have that attribute in surplus.
Plus, blue and green eyes make me giggle like a schoolgirl. I didn't share that with him, of course.

You're right about not choosing your friends. It comes down to things in common and kindred spirits and all that jazz.

Professor Batty said...

This post says more about race relations in America than most books which have been published about the subject. The fact that race trumps all other considerations has been, and continues to be, the most tragic legacy of slavery.

Anonymous said...

I don't feel you said anything stupid about race, but it really bothers me how apologetic you and most Americans are when it comes to this topic. In other countries & cultures it is not taboo, just a fact of nature.

Crystal said...

I kissed a black guy once, but he was a "white" black guy so I don't think it counts.

Aaaaaand that was way racist.

Obviously I am not racist if I am kissing black people, right?

Damn, Chris, I think we may be in the same boat.

Bwlch said...

As a Welsh speaker who is with a African American woman. America still have the shadow of slavery over their shoulders!!!!We the Welsh was conquered by the Romans so our chip on our shoulders is 1500 years longer than African Americans. Spoke to a family of Kenyans the other day and they felt more comfortable in Europe than north america!!!