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Thread: Experiences in Racial Ambiguity

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    Registered User Seawall's Avatar Seawall is offline
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    Experiences in Racial Ambiguity

    From a blog I've been enjoying.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Experiences in Racial Ambiguity

    Yesterday, while walking to a meeting for a student organization I'm currently in, two older white people sitting at the bus stop down the street from the co-op were debating my racial identity. I only figured this out because as I walked past the two, both were staring at me and the man (it may have been a middle-aged couple) said, "That's not a ################stani." There have been many a time when Indians, Blacks, and Whites have asked me where I'm from (what country or race, never which city or state) but knowing that two people were arguing over my racial identity while I could hear them went too far. I'm usually fine with people asking me about my race (I guess I can be racially ambiguous to blacks, whites, and South Asians) but what that older white couple did yesterday was incredibly offensive and over the line. If one is trying to ascertain the race of an individual without asking, never talk about it so loudly that the racially ambiguous person can hear what is said.

    Furthermore, for the first time I could agree with the ideology of some people to not try to identify others based solely on race or ethnicity. Indeed, race and ethnicity hardly define that whole person, so to hear people describe myself in purely racial terms can actually be really offensive. I suppose none of this should come as a surprise to me since I've discussed it with two friends who are socialists but never impose politically correct censorship. Both told me over a late night discussion at College Library that they try to avoid describing someone based on their race and criticized me for doing it all the time, but now I can agree with them. It can be offensive and in some ways dehumanizing to suggest that one's entire identity is based on race or ethnicity.

    However, I will most likely continue to refer to and describe people by their race for quite some time. Every once in a while I try to avoid doing it, but pretending race doesn't exist won't help eradicate racism. So I suppose the only lesson I truly got out of yesterday's experience is to never discuss some stranger's racial identity within that person's hearing range. And honestly, I don't mind people being upfront about it and asking me directly. Many blacks, a few whites, and even South Asians have inquired, usually in a respectful manner. One of my favorite racial ambiguity experiences was while tutoring at an elementary school in Milwaukee where a little girl asked, "What color are you?" I'm not offended by this little girl's harmless inquiry because it was direct and she's still young and curious about the world.

    Another more outrageous example occurred on Milwaukee's northside at a bus stop. While waiting, an older black woman walking by asked me what I was mixed with and then told me I'm beautiful. In addition, a woman I worked with last summer for over 6 weeks thought I was Indian or non-black the entire time because I have the 'good stuff' (non-nappy hair). She didn't think it was appropriate to ask directly in the beginning and brought it up casually while we were discussing a multiracial family who were protesting their son's arrest over stealing chicken nuggets in Shorewood, WI (another great story I should write about that illustrates how racism and criminalization of black youth are rampant). On another occasion a Southeast Asian man of Indian Muslim descent once said to me, "Hey, are you Indian?" when I went into his corner store to purchase a snack. This example I still find hilarious and anyone I tell it to laughs. It was quite random and very odd, but this man meant no harm. He was merely curious and excited about meeting another South Asian. One of my favorite example occurred just last year while tutoring at a local high school. My African-American student who was having trouble focusing on his schoolwork blurted out, "You Indian." When I told him I'm not Indian or any type of Asian, he insisted that I'm lying until I jokingly told him I am Indian.

    Here's my final example of being racially ambiguous. I took an independent study course freshman year about Marxism taught by two ISO grad students that only met a couple of times a month. One of the grad students was rather odd and talked little, despite him being the facilitator/instructor for the course. When I came up in discussion between him and a friend of mine who was also in the Internation Socialist Organization (ISO), this former instructor of mine said, "Oh, you mean the Indian guy?" He wouldn't believe my friend when he corrected him and told him the truth. Personally, I find this case quite amusing because this ISO grad student saw me all the time 2nd semester of freshman year and ran into me quite frequently during protests in Madison, yet he always thought I was Indian, not that there's anything wrong with it.

    Regardless of all this confusion and ambiguity, I think I have all of the stereotypical "Negroid" features common among African-Americans and I don't see how someone can believe I am Indian or non-black. I am half-Hispanic so I definitely have Spanish and/or indigenous ancestry, but I still believe that my physical appearance differs in very little ways from the average African-American or West Indian. I admit my hair is not nappy, but it's far from straight like the hair of most Indians I've encountered. Indeed, once people learn to accept the great diversity within Africans and African-descended peoples, I'm sure they won't have to ask themselves mentally or me personally about my race. But hey, I can't complain. It sure gave me many interesting experiences with blacks, whites, and Middle Eastern/South Asians.
    "Every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor." — Frantz Fanon

    “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.” Frederick Douglass

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    Registered User Seawall's Avatar Seawall is offline
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    Another post.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    Ethnic Groups I've Been Lumped Into
    1. Sudanese (An Arabic professor at UW-Madison asked me if I'm Sudanese at Memorial Library one night), likely northern Sudanese since the man, though very dark-skinned, is an Arabic-speaker.

    2. Mexican (Some Hmong American Women thought I was Mexican because of my Spanish last name...And a friend of my mother's, a light-skinned black woman from Mississippi, assumed my father was Mexican)

    3. ################stani (I overheard some offensive white people in Madison once refer to me as a "################")

    4. Indian (This has happened too often. Blacks will ask me if I'm Indian because of my hair, something an MPS teacher once said, or say I have an "Indian" skin tone, something whites have also said. Some South Asian folks have thought I was Indian, and I've been told I could pass for southern Indian or Sri Lankan. In fact, a South Asian Muslim from Southeast Asia asked me if I was Indian one morning while I was paying for my morning cappuccino in high school... Whites have thought of me as Indian, too, including an instructor I had for a class in college. My brother Miguel has also been mistaken for Indian. Indeed, during one of his classes a professor assumed he was Hindu! Also, while in Florida, a Haitian woman related to one of my distant relatives, said I look like a "Hindu" when I was visiting her with my relatives in a Miami suburb. The most recent time I was assumed to be Indian was likely in October when a homeless white man who had spent some time traveling in India asked if I was Indian.)

    5. Puerto Rican (My father is Puerto Rican, so this one is actually accurate) based on my hair or resemblance to other Afro-Puerto Ricans. The thing is, my Puerto Rican father looks white and does not look like an Afro-Puerto Rican at all...

    6. Haitian (My friend Simon's sister correctly guessed I was Haitian somehow...she said I looked like the people she uncovered in images for a middle school project. Also, she's from New York and likely has more exposure to Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino groups. Her father is also a professor at Columbia University...)

    7. Arab (I think people who say this are lumping South Asians with Arabs. Arabs are such a diverse group that, yes, I could pass for "Arab" in a place like Sudan, southern Egypt, Mauritania, or perhaps southern Morocco or Algeria. Or even Yemen or Saudi Arabia. But no, I'm not Arab.

    8. Once, while walking past some African-American students near a bus stop on Center St in Milwaukee, one of them called me "Afghani" and something like "Arab" or other ignorant remarks. Once again, they're equating Arabs with South Asians and Central Asians, and I don't look like them.

    9. Brazilian (A former housemate at a housing cooperative asked me this once because of my last name, which she thought was Portuguese) which isn't too far. Spanish surnames are often similar to Portuguese ones, and I could easily be Afro-Brazilian

    10. Mixed (African-American and white) is another 'racial' category sometimes thrust upon me. I've met light-skinned and mixed African-Americans who ask me that, and yes, I suppose in a very broad sense I'm "mixed" in terms of having African and European ancestry, but not through mainland slaves or Anglo-Americans. My "mixed" backgroud reflects Afro-Caribbean slaves, French, Spanish, and perhaps indigenous Taino bloodlines.)

    11. Israeli (never got this one before, which sounds way off to me, much worse of a guess than "Arab") came from a German guy, who thought I was Israeli, ################stani or some type of Middle Eastern background because I was much lighter-skinned when I first arrived in Cape Town. I don't know how or why he would think Israeli (except for Ethiopian Israelies, or maybe African immigrants in Israel, but I don't really look Ethiopian, either), but I guess the hair threw him off.

    I've written about experiences in racial ambiguity in a separate post, here and it doesn't really make any sense, as usual. Different strokes for different folks when it comes to classifying or placing individuals into boxes of social constructs.
    "Every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor." — Frantz Fanon

    “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.” Frederick Douglass

  3. #3
    Notchilous ladyrastafari's Avatar ladyrastafari is offline
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    here comes that shit again... "indian" skin tone.. this is the second time this week i read that.. but interesting posts
    Never waste your time trying to explain who you are to people who are committed to misunderstanding you.

    Velvet Glove. Iron Fist

    mi style still sharp .....u a A-Minor and dem a B-Flat

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    Notchilous ladyrastafari's Avatar ladyrastafari is offline
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    i just looked at that blog.. is that pic him?? hmm if it is.. it certainly adds layers to these articles.
    Never waste your time trying to explain who you are to people who are committed to misunderstanding you.

    Velvet Glove. Iron Fist

    mi style still sharp .....u a A-Minor and dem a B-Flat

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