An Uncomfortable Conversation

Hi, My name is Alea and I am a black woman. You might not notice from far away because my skin is perhaps a lighter shade but the roots run deep, I am a black woman. I have other blood lines that run through my family lineage such as a great great grandpa that is from Ireland, a great grandmother that was native American, my grandmother’s father being Sicilian, etc. But everyone else in that mix was from somewhere in Africa. To America, I am a black woman.

I was in a group of people recently  where I had an uncomfortable conversation about race with one person. They said ” Well you’re not all the way black ” as if it was a compliment. It reminded me of the times I was told ” Wow, you’re really pretty…for a black girl.” What does that even mean?  For a black girl?  What does that say to the rest of the world of black women? That they aren’t also beautiful because they a black? It was a weird start of an interaction with someone. ” Not all the way black” is a weird statement in it of itself. The first things we talked about were race because it was the very first identifiable box they could put me in. In America I think that is par for the course, not just with race but other things like job or where you’re from. How many times have you been asked “So what do you do for a living ? ” It’s the way we relate. In this case however, my job was never asked about. We spent about 30 minute talking about my black or non blackness.

I’m not flattered that you see me as someone “not all the way black.” While some people think that may be a compliment, it sure doesn’t sound like one to me. This uncomfortable conversation , in the same breath they said to my husband ” So now you came all the way from Poland and got yourself a black girl, how does it feel? ” So first I wasn’t all the way black but now, I was just a black girl someone came and got 1. Inciting that my husband had some kind of fetish for black women and that was the main factor in deciding to marry me- completely offensive to him, but 2. He got me? Was I some kind of property he was able to acquire? Was it some kind of “experience” to be with a black woman?  Not my brain, or my heart but my race. Stuff like this is why race is very much still an issue in our country.

I kind of hate talking about race. The topic itself for me has led to feelings being hurt and friendships severed. So it’s not something I bring up because I don’t assume people will understand. Some of the world already looks at me as someone ” not all the way black ” so my opinions seem to be diluted from the beginning. And the rest of the world views black people “whining” about being black as something they need to “Get over” . So no one is trying to hear the struggle anyway.

I was talking to someone a few month ago that said ” They [ blacks in america ] just need to move on , black people are completely equal in the country.” I’m sure without even thinking you read this and knew that person wasn’t black.  The term “races wars” was brought up but I found that it was only used when the minority wants to stand up and pursue fairness for themselves. It’s only a “war” when the oppressed says no more. It’s uncomfortable to look at someone else’s painful experiences and acknowledge them. I do understand that part. But when my sister gets followed in stores when she wears her hair more “ethnically”to make sure she isn’t stealing anything, my other sister constantly “randomly checked” by TSA every time she had to go into work as a flight attendant when she wore her little afro but not when she wore it straight, don’t get me started about my uncles ( very tall black men ) who get stopped for driving too nice of a car, it’s hard to ignore it. You’d be shocked at the number of times I’ve been called nigger ( yes with a hard R at the end).Or how often people ask ” Is the check separate?” when my white husband and I are at dinner, or the stares we get from older non-black couples. It’s hard to get over what is still very much happening. It might not be noticeable for most but it’s sure notable when it happens in your own backyard.

In college going to a small christian college where I was one of the 7 black people at a school of 1200, I dealt with a professor that graded me more harshly than my colleagues and almost caused me to lose my scholarship. I had never gotten a D in my life and almost every assignment I turned in was C-/D/D-. I was getting graded full letter grades down because of missing punctuation. Whereas one of my friends had completely misspelled words, even missing assignment completion and still got higher grade than me. this happened for months, so I sought help from counselors at the school, where they verified the bias and he was let go. That taught me something very sad about the world I lived in at 19 years old.  Now 31, As I’ve grown up I’ve learned to be proud of my heritage, and not to try to cover up who I am to make someone else more comfortable. But it’s been tough when situations bring up those tensions of feeling like I’m being treated differently or looked at at certain way because of the way I look before I have a chance to make my own impression with my words.

I chalk it up to ignorance because as an eternal optimist I have a hard time believing that people say this things out of malice. I could be naive but it’s better for my heart to believe “They don’t know no better” than “These people are trying to hurt me” but to say I’m not “all the way black” negates or invalidates my struggles that comes with being black in America.  To say ” You’re pretty for a black girl” is to negate the many beautiful shades of women around the world that are black and says that I’m not just pretty on the full scale, I’m still under whatever other race you deemed as actually beautiful. It’s backhanded compliment.  To say ” They need to move on” is being blind to what’s been hurting us for years. I hesitated to even write this for fear of being deemed as ” angry black woman” or ” making a big deal out of something small” because people don’t like hearing about this stuff.  Slavery is over ( for Americans) but racism is not, even in it’s very small and ignorant ways. I usually don’t speak up but that really bothered me, and it made me wonder how many other people that kind of stuff happens to and they don’t say anything. ” I should probably say something”  A small ignorant conversation over a fire with a stranger like this one, happens more often than you would imagine because… I am a black person in America and stuff like this happens to us. It’s not a race war…it’s our life.