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Archive for the ‘growing up’ Category

Nezua the Unapologetic Mexican (1969- ) grew up in Bethesda, Maryland and other places all across America, half Mexican and half white by blood. On his blog he writes beautifully about the not-so-beautiful experience. What follows is merely my overview. Links to his blog follow.

He looks white but not quite. Like in the summer he was afraid to go outside because he would turn dark in no time.  But most times only other Mexicans could tell what he was – and try to speak to him in Spanish!

White people told him he could pass for white – as if he never tried that, as if it were that easy. He did try it, from age 8 to 19. His name was even changed to an Anglo one everyone could say when his white, Irish American stepfather signed all the papers to make him his son in the eyes of the law: he went from Joaquín to Jack. For a while he even lightened his skin, shaved off all his hair and changed his eye colour with contact lenses. His English was perfect, better than most. He tried to be “universal”.

… nobody has tried harder than I to be “white.” Nobody knows as well as I that despite how many moments you think you pull it off, unless it’s what you really are, then in the end, being WHITE means erasing yourself until there’s nothing there.

Trying to be white, “the Bestest thing ya could be”, led to anger, confusion and self-hatred. He was denying his true self. It took him years to undo the damage. Telling his story is part of the undoing.

No matter how you make yourself look on the outside there is still your heart on the inside. The heart that, for example, has to listen to the racist jokes white people will tell with you sitting right there – because, ha ha, it is just a joke, so lighten up already.

His mother was a good mother, but she was white. She could not undersand what being Mexican meant. His Mexican father was out of the picture by age five. So all he knew about Mexico came from white people – from their racist jokes,  television shows, Hollywood films,  books and, most of all, from their faces:

… what did “Mexican” mean to me? It meant weird pauses. Wrinkled brows. Forced smiles. Awkward transitions that even as a child I was very aware of.

In high school he looked more and more like his father. The mirror laughed at his attempts to become white.

His mother searched for his birth father and found him at long last in Iowa. He spent a summer there with his father’s family when he was 19. They regarded him as Mexican and it felt good – right there in Iowa City in the middle of America.

… the acceptance I get from the brown world is always nourishing, always empowering. And the acceptance from the white world, when it thinks I am not brown, is always degrading, debasing. If you can understand that, then you understand a lot.

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why_are_all_the_black_kids_sitting_together_in_the_cafeteria1Beverly Tatum is a child psychologist who wrote “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” (2003, updated). Despite the title it is not about self-segregation – though she does answer that question. It is about how race affects growing up in America.

Being black herself, her main concern is black children and that is where the book shines, but she covers the other races too: white, Asian, Hispanic (counts as a race in this book) and even Native American and Middle Easterners (who are becoming racialized as a dangerous other). She covers biracial or mixed race children too. Even if you are “Other” it is worth reading because it turns out that what matters most is whether or not you are white.

She lays out the stage models that psychologists have come up with for how people of different races come to terms with their own colour. Some models are more solid and worked out than others. She points out their limits. She does not assume a background in psychology or act as if these models are the way, the truth and the light – just the best working answers by those who study such things.

The black stage model is the one that is most worked out and best supported by studies. It is surprisingly good:  you see how the things in your life that you thought were just accidents (like how some white friends from grade school fall away in middle school for no apparent reason) or just you (a sudden, consuming interest in black authors at a particular age) are not chance events but follow a particular pattern driven by race.

The white stage model seemed like something from another world. I am surprised anyone worked it out, to tell you the truth, since whites seem to think of themselves as raceless, as if their race does not affect them. But in any case, that model is next to useless anyway because few whites get beyond stage one – the stage where they think they are colour-blind and that America is fair. But it does show you how hard it is for a white person to shake his racism and self-delusion. It is way harder than you think – more like a fish swimming up stream, say,  than some blinding moment of enlightenment.

Note that the models only apply to those who grew up after 1970, after the civil rights movement. They apply best to those who go to mixed-race government schools since they are the most studied.

Even if you do not have children, it is still good to read if you want to understand how race shapes people in America and what it might take for it to become truly post-racial.

But, as it turns out, that is just why some people do not like the book. They think racism is over. They say Tatum sees race in everything and is making it worse. But that is just what you would expect from stage-one whites!

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Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”

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