When I was 12 years old, I was accused of being racist. I had watched this video called “Old Greg” and had gotten into the habit of quoting it. For those of you that don’t know what “Old Greg” is, it’s pretty much this video about this swamp monster that kidnaps this fisherman. The swamp monster is silly, talks with a strange accent, and the whole video turns into this weird musical thing. In this video, while Old Greg is talking to the fisherman, he responds to something by saying “Don’t lie to me boy” in his silly accent. During gym class, I was talking to my gym teacher, who had often singled me out and tried to get me in trouble throughout the year. I asked him if he had a quarter one day. He said no. I responded “don’t lie to me boy,” thinking it was funny to copy the video I had seen on youtube. My gym teacher, who had happened to be black, then sent me to the office and made me write a three page paper explaining “why I was racist” and “why I should be sorry for being a racist.” I had no idea what I had said that had been taken as racist. He and a group of other black teachers then cornered me and told me that I was “a racist little girl and probably said nigger with all of my friends and should be ashamed.”
In college, I let a friend stay with me and my sister. He’s a nice guy but is a little spoiled. I went on a grocery trip and ended up spending $300, which is quite a bit of money, and I expected this food to last me a couple of weeks. I left for a night and returned home to find that my friend had eaten almost all of my food and didn’t intend on replacing it. Of course I don’t mind sharing food, but if entire bags of things are eaten and the entire contents of my fridge are gone, it’s a little unsettling. When explaining I had spent an entire pay check on groceries and that it bothered me that he didn’t chip in, he then proceeded to tell me that “I didn’t like him because he was brown.”
I went to middle school in the south. In much of the southern region of the U.S., there seems to be a split between people: you are either white or you are black. If you are mixed or any color in between, you’re sometimes met with confusion and often times rude comments. There would be times I would be hanging out with a friend, who would then begin to look discerningly at my features, and ask something along the lines of “Are you like, mixed or something?” or the oh so subtle “What are you?”
There was also a time in my middle school where there were papers hanging in the hallway with all the students names, ages, and races next to them. I then saw a boy I had a crush on proceed to see that I was mixed race and tell me “he couldn’t like me anymore because I wasn’t white.”
I tell you these stories to show you I have been on both sides of the issue; judged for being a different ethnicity and accused of judging someone for being a different ethnicity. When you’re mixed, you don’t quite fit into a category, especially if you look like me: white with “exotic” features. If you are mixed but take on the coloring of the darker ethnicity, it’s a little easier in terms of finding where to fit in. People of both ends of the spectrum look at you and just see your darker color, so that’s where you’re categorized. When you look more like me, you’re initially assumed to be white until your features are closely examined. Then people don’t know quite where to put you. You’re not white enough for the white people and you aren’t dark enough for the darker people.
To me, I’ve found this to present a very interesting perspective on things. If you know me, you know I’m clearly not racist. People are people and I don’t give a fuck what you look like. But being “white passing” has put me in the position where people have been able to categorize me as “just another racist white person” without realizing I am, in fact, mixed. Then, being in the position of not being “white enough” has also put me in the position of experiencing bullying based on my ethnicity.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve experienced racism. I don’t feel held back in any sort of way and think I am capable of doing pretty much anything I want without being held back from systematic prejudices. The thing that I have noticed more so and that has left more of a lasting mark on me is when I have been falsely accused of racism.
I’ve encountered times that racism is blamed more out of insecurity than out of legitimate reasoning. This just serves to divide people even more by accusing people of something atrocious that is simply untrue. I get that it can be difficult to have experienced bullying based on your ethnicity, but you’re doing yourself and others a disservice by immediately jumping to the conclusion that something that someone is doing is based solely on your ethnic background.
My sister and I were talking about people that seem to focus a lot on this aspect of their existence. My sister is like me; half white, half “brown” (that feels silly to say), but she is the opposite of me; brown with more caucasian features. We thought that often the people that are so ready to blame many aspects of their troubles on their color or ethnicity sometimes may be overcompensating for the childhood bullying they experienced and sometimes seem to be overly paranoid about it going into adulthood. Obviously this is not always the case, but from both of our experiences (being wrongly accused of prejudice) this has been a theme.
In the end, where all just people trying to navigate this complicated world. Go into things with an open mind, and before you decide that an issue has something to do with your ethnicity, take a deeper look at the problem and see if you might be projecting insecurities.