Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tues. Morning Wake Up Call

I’ve never been good at tests, I’ve always been able to get by exceedingly well. That’s not to say I’m not smart or didn’t do my work but I’ve just never had to go that extra mile. In school I could show up, breeze in and easily score an A on a test I didn’t even know was scheduled. The only tests I ever did poorly on were math tests, and my teachers always passed me anyway, because “I was a nice girl.” Even though this bothered my burgeoning principles I accepted it because I needed to pass math, and I refused to cheat.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed the benefits of being a pretty young woman, people always have time to help you, people offer to carry your bags and ease your load, cabs always stop for you and wait until you make it inside the vestibule of your building. I’ve noticed that if you speak softly, people make more of an effort to hear what you say as opposed to blabbing everything out.

I write this today because of a conversation I had yesterday with my coworker, who unfortunately couldn’t catch a cab and he correlated it to being black and male. We discussed the prevalence of stereotypes and racism, and it made me think of my own experiences. Since I have a lighter complexion even for someone from a Sicilian/Puerto Rican background, my battles have often been against being exoticised, especially in hot tamale sort of way. I too have dealt with some racism strangely it almost always been while down South or way after people have ‘discovered’ my Spanishness.

Minority women have a double burden to deal with albeit I think men have it worse. Minority women tend to be seen as hard workers, mules of the world if you will and by the same token as sexual objects, i.e., African Hottentot (African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus), Carmen, … Minority men are feared and emasculated, called irresponsible, lazy and unworthy.

I may be oversimplifying things, and please do note that I’m speaking theoretically about Society, I don’t believe everyone feels or thinks or practices these things. I do, however believe that these concepts do infiltrate at least some of our thinking and practices.

I highly recommend the book Ain't I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism by Prof. Bell Hooks. In it she discusses how the effects of the peculiar institution called slavery, has infantilized black men, emasculated them while elevating the women to sexual workhorse status and what she discusses in this book applies to all colonialized people, dark skinned or not.

I wonder what are we doing as individuals on a daily basis to conquer or dismiss these stereotypes? My coworker asked me, “what can we do?” I responded “We can alter the way we look and judge individuals, we can see X as a person, not a label, we can stop perpetuating these beliefs, we can go back to the places we came from and let the young kids know that there are so many avenues available to them, even if they can’t see them right now and lastly, and I think most critically we live our lives as role models. I may not have children yet, but the things I do, I do consciously, leaving a trail so that others especially young Latinas can know that if I did it so can you. I’ve cleared a path for you, you may not follow in my exact footprints, but you may follow my same path, freedom awaits on the other side.

I leave you with a poem by one of my Hunter College peers:

exotic by suheir hammad

don't wanna be your exotic
some delicate fragile colorful bird
imprisoned caged
in a land foreign to the stretch of her wings
don't wanna be your exotic
women everywhere are just like me
some taller darker nicer than me
but like me but just the same
women everywhere carry my nose on their faces
my name on their spirits
don't wanna
don't seduce yourself with
my otherness my hair
wasn't put on top of my head to entice
you into some mysterious black voodoo
the beat of my lashes against each other
ain't some dark desert beat
it's just a blink
get over it
don't wanna be your exotic
your lovin of my beauty ain't more than
funky fornication plain pink perversion
in fact nasty necrophilia
cause my beauty is dead to you
I am dead to you
not your
harem girl geisha doll banana picker
pom pom girl pum pum shorts coffee maker
town whore belly dancer private dancer
la malinche venus hottentot laundry girl
your immaculate vessel emasculating princess
don't wanna be
your erotic
not your exotic

2 comments:

  1. Literanista, I completely hear what you're saying. These stereotypes, the lasting effects of slavery on colonized peoples, our very identities being thrust upon us from the outside, all these things are the last battles people of color must contend with. My friend once said that now people of color are so close to realizing "The Dream", it's scary to reach the goal...this is a well though out, well written piece. And timely. And something to chew on...

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