Sunday, April 29, 2007

No more excuses...

Ashley, our new co-worker Velda and I were at a popular downtown nightclub Friday when we encountered something we’ve come up against many times before – a Caucasian girl doing her best impression of a black girl. Or at least, what they think all black girls act like.

As we were leaving she stopped and said, “Oh no, the sistahs are leaving.”

I braced myself for another ridiculous situation. And I say another, because this is something we all encounter all the time.

“The sistahs can’t leave. We gotta show these white boys how it’s done. Shoot, some of these white girls too. But I swear my momma must have been black.”

As she’s saying this she starts doing some type of dance, popping her butt.

When we get down to the valet she stops and adds “OK, well let me slap a sistahs (butt) before I go.”

Wow. Really?

As always, I excused her. Told myself she meant no harm.

But I’m tired of that. They always get excused. Always.

That took me back to high school when my friends in marching band would ask me to teach them how to step or do the dances they’ve seen on videos. And to all the conversations about why “we” – as in black people – had to put grease in our hair, etc. etc.
Shoot, that even took me back to a few situations earlier in the week where I had to excuse some folks.

So, here’s the deal.
Talk to me like you’ve got sense and I’ll talk to you the same.
Talk to me like we’re all alike, because we are. We’re all humans and contrary to popular belief, the color of my skin doesn’t automatically dictate my interests, my level of education or how I talk.

As Ashley said, BET, MTV and all the other sources of "entertainment" that have commercialized our culture and created these stereotypes have ruined it for us.

Now, to others outside of our culture, it’s cool to talk slang and shake your butt to the beat. It’s all just a fad to them while it’s a way of life for others.

But I guarantee you we’re not all like that. We do more than figure out ways to butcher the English language, come up with new dance moves and aspire to more than owning an Escalade we can put on "dubs."

Never met someone like that?

Hello, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Janelle…


Ashley Northington said...


I couldn’t even believe that girl had the nerve to want to “smack” our bottoms! I would have tried to break her arm if she’d touched me. Not all people are that ignorant but as a person who is always out and about I’m constantly put in ridiculous situations like that.

White men and women always try to hold conversations with me and when things are going along well they sometimes begin to roll their necks and snap their fingers and call me “honey child” or “girlfriend.” Sometimes I laugh nervously and sometimes I make them stop their behavior when I look at them crazily. But that’s what they see on television or what someone has told them black women act like so they try to imitate it to us. But we don't all act like that.

Other things like that happen when I’m meeting new people or out on assignments. I always introduce myself and people typically repeat my name and say how nice it is to meet me. Then, like this weekend at a local pool hall, people still ask me if I’m Monica Carter or Donecia Pea! I don’t understand it. These two have worked here for a while and most folks see Monica in the paper every week and because she’s black and I’m black they assume I her--even after I say my name is Ashley.

It’s ridiculous. And I’m with you, Janelle, we always excuse it away. We say they don’t mean any harm. I’m starting to wonder if we are harming ourselves and others like us if we don’t say anything because then they’ll never know how their behavior offends us.

Kathryn Usher said...

Outstanding piece of writing. You should shop this to a national magazine or paper.

Lisa said...

I'm not shocked or surprised to know this happened to you. This is the sad state of our world.
For way too long African-Americans have operated with the philosophy that if we ignore ignorant stereotypes they will no longer have power. Unfortunately, by ignoring - and sometimes even embracing them and calling it ‘black culture’ - we have actually made them more powerful than we ever imagined. We have validated them by our silence.
So after reading that entry, I know I will no longer excuse such situations believing that the offender doesn’t know any better. They know better.
When will we learn that they are not laughing with us when they act like that, they are laughing at us.

Good going, Janelle.

Janelle Rucker said...

I agree Lisa.
Our silence is probably what has allowed this craziness to persist.

Similar to how Ashley said she reacts sometimes, I just laugh nervously or uncomfortably.

Not anymore though. But, what I'm faced with now is how to handle the situations. (Because I'm sure it'll happen again within the next week.)

I think it's important when I say something to them that I articulate my point well, remaining polite but making sure I'm firm.

Anything else will just feed into how they expect us to behave or give them something else to add to their act.

Any thoughts on how to do it?

Janelle Rucker said...

...and thanks for your thought kathryn!

Special K said...

You should definitly call that shit out when you see it. I think the best way to approach this situation would be to just very calmly say something such as, "I'm sorry, do you think all black people talk that way?" or, "Excuse me, why are you acting like a racist stereotype of a black person? Do you think that's funny?" Call them out on it while maintaining your calm and composure and not losing your temper. This will demonstrate to you, them, and everyone around that you are a class act and they are acting foolish.

Kevan Smith said...

You met a drunk person. In vino veritas. You could have called her out, but why bother? She was drunk and it likely would have caused a scene. I commend you for your politeness.

Janelle Rucker said...

Yes Kevan, she was drunk. But most others aren't. I'm just using that one recent example to point out a problem that happens all the time.
And I agree with you, it probably would have caused a scene, which is why I usually don't call people out on it.
But, I'll ask again, when people aren't drunk, how do you propose to handle these situations?

Kevan Smith said...

I think you already got most of the solution in what you wrote:

"Talk to me like you’ve got sense and I’ll talk to you the same.

Talk to me like we’re all alike, because we are."

Juts do that no matter what they say or do. Eventually they'll get the point and learn the lesson. I know it's hard to hold back, though.

Da Arsonist said...

Wow....I don't even smack butts in the club.

She bold as hell.

Greg Pearson said...

Ashley...I've had people ask me if I'm Jim Hudelson or Robert Ruiz! And Kevan's right....sounds like the girl was drunk. Talking to a drunk is like reasoning with ignorance...pointless and going nowhere.

Ashley Northington said...

Greg: I understand what you're saying but I still think its ridiculous.

Kevan: I think you and others are confused about drunkeness. Just because a person is intoxicated doesn't mean they are all of a sudden ignorant or incapable of reason. Intoxication only means that inhibitions are weakened, meaning that this girl probably would have said the same thing even if she was sober. And how do we know she was drunk? We don't really.

And, we're not talking about one isolated incident. If we were, it wouldn't be that big of a deal. I think its really important that people understand that this is something that happens ALL the time. Literally, all the time. At least once or twice per week for me--when people aren't drunk. Or, at least they shouldn't be at schools, school board meetings, and other functions.

I just think some folks need to wake up and realize they aren't as enlightened as they think they are.

Janelle Rucker said...

Yes! Nicely put.

Thank you Ashley.

Ashley Northington said...

And also Kevan, I'm glad you respect Janelle's (and mine) politeness. But that's what we always we do. We are always polite. We always ignore others' foolishness. At some point we have to take a stand. If we stop to educate people about how the character-like stereotypes don't apply to all, then they'll never know and then they'll continue to be ignorant.

Kevan Smith said...

Perhaps you could channel your anger into something positive by volunteering for groups that promote diversity and understanding. I understand the Unitarian church here has a number of such activities.

Ashley Northington said...

Seriously Kevan, I'm not angry. I'm only trying to point out something I feel is a problem in our society.

Just because you don't agree or yet, understand, what we're saying because you don't experience this doesn't mean our point isn't valid or we're "angry."

Perhaps you could attend the Unitarian Church since it promotes understanding...

Kevan Smith said...

No, I _do_ agree with you. You should be treated with respect and judged on your character, not your skin color. I thought you were angry because you wrote "I would have tried to break her arm if she’d touched me." She was putting you in a ridiculous situation and it was all her fault.

You also wrote "I’m starting to wonder if we are harming ourselves and others like us if we don’t say anything ..." I strongly urge you to indeed speak out. There a plenty of volunteer organizations that will provide you just that opportunity.

I am totally on your side in this, and I'm sorry if I came across otherwise.

Ashley Northington said...

Ok, Kevan. We're cool.

Eric said...

You should always call someone out when they disrespect matter if your Black, White, Brown, Yellow,...what have you. There is no excuse in this day and age for anyone and I mean anyone to jump on the stereotype band wagon.

I for one am sick and tired of seeing (enter race here) having "Out of Ethnic Experiences".

I was raised in a mixed household. I am white (or as white as a true american can get atleast) and my three brother are asian. I saw the stereotypes all the time when it came to my brothers and myself. We never let any of it go...and guess what? It stoped. We were accepted just like everyone else...since they knew that we would not put up with it.

Never ever let it go! Always speak up if not for yourself then for the next person that this moron comes in contact with.