choice

Last month, I had an abortion.

I’ve been a strident advocate for a woman’s right to choose since I was a pre-teen, and it’s still difficult for me to say those words. So many assumptions about my life can be made on the basis of that admission, and the shame is real. For White women in American society, the shame of having an abortion is mainly centered on their individual behavior. For Black women, our behavior reflects on Black folks as a whole, specifically other Black women—so the scope of the shame is much wider. An unintended pregnancy can call your responsibility into question, and regardless of your age, the specter of the stereotypical Black teenage mother casts a long shadow.

Read more at EBONY.com.

The idea of Black women being called on to impart their essence into a white woman in order for her to become empowered is laughable, when you consider the fact that actual Black women are systematically disempowered in American society. Yet when viewed in the context of the social construction of an essential Black culture, and white folks’ subsequent appropriation of said culture, it makes total sense. Why not pick and choose the most desirable aspects of what you’ve created and incorporate them into your own identity? Why not then shame the people whose culture you stole, reconstructed, and marketed back to them for engaging in those same activities? Why worry about the historical significance of your actions when nothing other than the protests of those occupying a lesser social status compel you to do so?

[read more at Bitch Magazine.]

Being raw and emotionally vulnerable in public is not something I’m very comfortable with. Talking loudly about sex acts, bodily fluids and consuming large quantities of cake products in public doesn’t bother me. Having my tits hanging half out or my skirt hiked up past my ass in public barely registers on my “for shame” meter. Even describing elaborate sexual fantasies in detail on public transportation next to elderly women who are clearly scandalized doesn’t make me bat an eye. But when it comes to what’s going on in my head, the non-superficial stuff, laying bare my dysfunctional thought processes, I just can’t. Not to anyone but those closest to me. At a young age I learned that most people don’t want to deal with the unpretty stuff. The things that aren’t resolved by reassurances and pep talks. The ugly crying. Dark moods that last months, suicidal panic attacks that occur every day like clockwork, and self-loathing so intense it has a distinct and palpable feeling. Days spent just surviving, not living, not growing, just continuing on the same broken path because that’s all you can do. I have been there and I have been silent because that is not the voice I want people to hear. It’s not the voice I think other people want to hear. But a lot of the time, it’s the voice I have.

Illustration by Pheobe Wahl
Illustration by Pheobe Wahl

There is so much pressure to be “okay”. During the short time I’ve had this particular blog, I’ve received a lot of messages from folks, fat, queer, and otherwise, who feel really crappy about themselves for feeling crappy about themselves. They feel like all their “role models” are able to reach that high level of self-esteem, and they can’t because they’re fundamentally flawed. It’s basically meta low self-esteem, and I think the internet and social media in general really contribute to the illusion that there’s some kind of pinnacle that you reach when you’ve achieved something like OT 7 of self love (excuse the Scientology reference). Because we do want to put our best face out there, and we do create an image, whether consciously or unconsciously, that doesn’t necessarily reflect our inner world. Society at large isn’t exactly accepting of what is popularly considered “weakness”, so it’s not really shocking that when given the opportunity to filter what other people know about our lives, we leave out the negative. I’ve always thought I tried to be true to life on the internet, but I’ve been surprised when I meet people who only know my life from what they read online and have this illusion that it’s one big fat awesome party with lots of sex and food. I ended up buying into that trap of thinking that I HAVE to be this certain way to be accepted, that I can’t be real and have varying feelings that aren’t all I AM HOT, BEING FAT IS AWESOME, I LOVE SEX. When my voice changed from a confident, clarion call for body acceptance and open fat & queer sexuality to a plaintive cry for help out of the dark place I found myself in, I retreated. Like I said, vulnerability is extremely hard for me (and many people) to share and work with in a public way. It opens you up to attack by so many people who want nothing to do but hurt you. People who have been chomping at the bit to see you fall down.

I now know that in vulnerability is strength, but we’re not made to feel like it. To so many, talking about actual feelings is “overshare”. Sharing negative feelings is just annoying and inconvenient to listen to. If you’re feeling less than joyous about life, you must be putting some kind of intention out there that is inviting bad shit onto your doorstep. This is victim-blaming. It impedes openness and real talk. Yet being able to talk things out and share each others’ struggles is so vital for building community. I don’t endorse letting your personal crazy run roughshod over everyone around you, but we need to make it easier to fall apart for a minute, or an hour, or a month, and still be supported & validated. Those feelings are REAL and whether other people want to admit it or not, they feel them too sometimes.

I’ve been doing a lot of internal work during these past few months, and also thinking A LOT about the way we represent ourselves in community spaces and how that can contribute to our feelings of isolation. Because it’s been really difficult for me to handle socializing lately, even online socializing, I’ve taken breaks and thus reflected on how I’m affected by the push to be perfect. I, too, have suffered and still do suffer at times from meta low self-esteem. The confidence I once had in abundance is often hard to find these days, so I’ve kept online communications to a minimum. But I’m finally coming here to share my imperfections and how I’m growing, and hope that maybe knowing that someone who is supposed to be beyond this shit actually ISN’T all of the time will help a few people feel less isolated.

I believe now, wholeheartedly, that to truly be confident you have to accept vulnerability, and embrace it. I’d often been asked how to start loving yourself wholly, and I never really had a good answer other than “just start”. I have another answer now–I think that expressing vulnerability, getting past that shame that we have internalized, letting it be known that hey, I’m not there yet, or I was there and right now I’m not, is the first step, and the fifth step, and can really be any step you need to take along the never ending journey that is loving yourself. I want to see a community that encourages vulnerability. Whether you feel shame surrounding your body, or your queerness, or your gender identity, there should be no shame necessary in acknowledging that.

And I’ve felt a lot of shame in my life about being fat, queer, femme, mixed race, slutty and all that. I wasn’t born “fierce”. It took me a long, long time to get to where I am now, and fuck it, sometimes I backslide. And I have to admit that, and own it, and hold in my heart a place for that girl who was abused, who was shamed, who is a survivor that still needs nurturing and reassurance sometimes.

We all need to hold a place for that person–for ourselves and everyone else we love, and everyone we should love.

Every year or so I get tired of dealing with my hair and want to either get braids or hide it under a wig. Last year it was kinky twists that lasted about a day before my hair drew up and made them look like those strips of felt at the end of the car wash. But I had spent 10 hours in a chair and $80 for those twists so you’re damn right I rocked my felt strips for a month before it got too sad to look at. I will not do that again.

When I first went nappy I had a couple wigs I would wear when I wanted big hair, but after it grew too puffy to sit under the wig and too short to pull back to fit under the wig, I ditched them since they were all tangled and nasty anyway. I see you, Beverly Johnson Collection. Anyway it’s been a year and I’m dying for big hair past my shoulders and also tired of detangling constantly so I’m back on the wig tip. I’ve been obsessed with wig tutorials on YouTube and steady stalking hairsisters.com for the past 2 weeks, so I figured I’d share my purchases with you because I know you’re interested in everything on my mind.

First up is Calidiva77 modeling the wig that I’m getting in the mail today. Her channel is full of dope wig tutorials, I’ve been watching the archives a lot. This wig is Freetress Equal “Jackie” lace front.

The other wig I ordered that I don’t know when I’m getting is the Sensationnel Empress “Megan” lace front. These are both synthetic by the way. I don’t plan on wearing these every day so I’m just going to start off cheap and easy and not go all out and get some Beyonce full lace remy wigs. Here’s 1SimplYounique with Megan.

On Friday I’m pretty sure I’m going to Fashion’s Night Out in L.A. so I’ll debut my new hair that night. And I’m planning to try to rock some false eyelashes which I have NEVER been able to successfully do so wish me luck on that tip.

Things have just been bananas over in the Fierce household so I’m not really in the mood to do some kind of cultural criticism for y’all right now, apologies. If you want to see where I AM doing cultural criticism 3 times a week, check out my “Size Matters” column at Bitch magazine. Some of those clowns wear me out, for real, which also leaves me just wanting to talk about makeup and hair. I. can’t. even.

At the Crunk Feminist Collective last week, writers Moya B. and Summer M. started a dialogue of sorts on colorism — specifically light skin privilege. That post got thrown a bit of shade by some commenters, so they responded to the ruckus with a follow up post fleshing out the topic a bit more. As a light-skinned black woman myself, I felt a bit uncomfortable and defensive reading the initial post at first, typically a sign for me that I’m reading an article that is challenging some assumption I have or something I take for granted, which is a good thing. After I got into reading, though, I found myself for the most part agreeing with the points Moya and Summer were making, and I began to examine my own relationship with light skin privilege.

For much of my young adult life, I felt that some darker skinned black women were “discriminating” against me because I’m light skinned. Not that they had wielded any particular societal power over me other than to treat me with disdain or question my blackness. Pretty much all of my friends have been darker than I am, so it’s not like every black person darker than me has rejected me or mistreated me. While when I was in Christian elementary and middle school I was one of few black children attending and therefore experienced hefty doses of racism, when I got out and into public school, I was just one of many other black kids so it wasn’t a big deal. Whereas at my private school I was naturally close with the few other black kids there, in public school all the black kids didn’t necessarily have to hang out. I found myself on the outside, not only as a new student but also as a light skinned black girl among peers that were on the whole darker than I was and had preconceived notions regarding light skinned girls in general.

I don’t need to go into the various hurdles I jumped to get accepted by my black peers, especially the girls. The narrative is familiar. At the time, I recognized that they thought I may be haughty about being light skinned, like I thought I was better than them. I didn’t really know exactly why they might think that because at the time I was no scholar of African American history. I was bitter that they had these ideas about me and bitter that they were the gatekeepers of acceptance into the black kids’ group. Now that I have the benefit of hindsight and education, I understand why they felt that way.

I know now the privilege I had and do have due to my lightness. I see the way people treat me versus how they treat my dark skinned friends. I’m considered safe and non-threatening. White people feel like they can ask me ignorant questions about black people and assume I won’t get offended, even though they know I’m black. It’s like they think the lighter skin makes me more docile and sympathetic to their ignorance. Friends who know both me and my sister will often come to me when they have problems with her, because I’m seen as the “good” one. Black guys treat me differently, I’m considered exotic and in many cases preferable to a dark skinned woman. Basically that whole “Light Skin Privilege” list, I live it. And for the longest time, I had no idea. I thought I was the one being treated unfairly. I couldn’t understand why they were distrustful of me. Years of being treated as “less than”, less than white and even less than other black folk, will make people be distrustful. However much it hurt me that they were, they had every right to be, just like we as black people have every right to not immediately trust that white people aren’t going to be racist or prejudiced against us.

For me it’s important to say out loud that I am privileged because of my light skin. I need to be mindful of my privilege when I talk about my experiences navigating life as a light skinned black person. I need to understand that dark skinned black people experience a great deal more discrimination and racism than I do. They’re on the front lines. I’m bringing up the rear. So it’s essential to center their voices in conversations about racism and colorism. Being defensive about it serves no good purpose. Yes, we all experience racism. Yes, there is intra-racial tension between dark skinned and light skinned black folks and we can both mistreat the other group. I’m not saying it’s ideal for dark skinned black folk to resent lighter black folk. There’s a deep history behind that resentment, though, and it’s not going to go away by me bemoaning that it exists.

I write this as a recognition of my privilege and also to bring attention to the topic. Since the original post by Moya and Summer, Sister Toldja of The Beautiful Struggler has also opened a dialogue with her readers. I want to continue to foster the dialogue. Recognizing your light skin privilege does not make you less black. It simply places you in solidarity with those hardest hit by racism.

It rings true: either we’re all free or none of us are.

There are a few things I find funny about the way people think about “mulattoes”, which for our purposes will be defined in the classical way: a person of white and black parentage. One is, to a lot of white people mulattoes are usually black until they do something important. Then they’re “biracial” — and always have been. Another is, to a lot of black people, mulattoes are constantly expected to prove their “blackness” until they do something important, and then they’re definitely black — and always have been.

The assumption is that we’ve got it easier than “full blacks” because of the white blood, regardless of the fact that history is rife with equally negative stereotypes about mulattoes as there are about full blacks. (I use the term “full black” with lots of eye rolling, because there aren’t that many people who identify as black who have nothing but black African genes.) Mulatto men were considered more dangerous than full black men because they had “ambitious and power hungry” Caucasian blood in them that combined with the “savage, animalistic” African blood empowered them to rape white women and commit all sorts of violent crimes. Full blacks were assumed to be more docile and obedient. Mulattas (mulatto women) were considered oversexed, mentally unstable temptresses that led white men to ruin. Mulattas were also worth more on the slave market — and yeah, they were sold as slaves, have no doubt there’s no get out of slavery free card just cause your mama got raped by a white man — because of their sexual potential. Mulattas were raped most often because it was as close to raping a white woman as you can get. Bottom line. Birth of a Nation, the incredibly racist movie that glorified the Klan back in 1915, had as a main story arc a mulatto character, Silas Lynch, who riled up the black people during Reconstruction to oppress and assault the good white folk. He became lieutenant governor of some state and through cronyism got all his black friends positioned in government and they all smoked cigars and talked about killing all white people. Something to that effect.

The stereotype of the tragic mulatto (really, go read that link, it’s incredibly informative) is ingrained in our culture, and evidenced by the fact that mulattoes are often expected to choose sides, unless it’s completely obvious that you’re black, and then you’re expected to shut up and just be black. Take Halle Berry, who is mulatta but due to her darker skin tone is assumed to be full black by many people. Someone like Lisa Bonet has to be put in a black context for people to think she’s black, and even then it’s obvious she’s mixed with something. The thing is, there’s really no choice. You can’t be white or you’re “passing”, which has negative connotations and of course involves the erasure of a large part of your heritage. And even then, you’ve got to look really European to take that route. If you’re like me, lighter skinned but nappy headed and with more African features, you’re pretty much seen as black — at the least you’re seen as biracial or some other non-white ethnicity (when I had a perm some would guess Latina). But many act like you have to choose one or the other.

I didn’t really call myself by any racial descriptors when I was young, up until I got into junior high and started public school where no one knew my family. Then I just said I was half black, half white. As I got more politically aware I began to simply refer to myself as black, and if asked I would explain “what I was mixed with”. One reason for this was that for me identifying as the “lesser” of my two halves was a way to represent my pride in my black heritage, since it seemed like everyone who could was identifying as anything BUT black, like it was some disease. The other reason was that culturally, I fall on the black spectrum, so it just made sense. I did go through the requisite identity crises that mulattoes are supposed to go through as they grow up in a race-obsessed culture that is incredibly hostile to nonwhites. This was mostly because I was seeking validation from others instead of validating my own damn self. There have been interesting landmarks along the way, like when I grew my hair out natural and discovered I don’t have biracial hair. Well, maybe in the back. (Love that poem, though — I too, sing biracial)

For as much as I’ve used it here, I find the term mulatto somewhat distasteful, given that it’s the name given to the offspring of a horse and a mule. If you don’t want to call me black, call me a hybrid — because that sounds really X-Files and I’m a nerd like that.

For whatever the reason, a lot of white people seem to feel that since we elected a black man as our President, everything is A-OK on the race front. It appears that to them, the main goal of the civil rights movement was not to gain equal rights for people of color, or change hearts and minds, but to install a person of color in the highest office of the land. Anything else is gravy. So no one thinks twice about the level of rancor directed at our prized Black President or the fact that he gets 400% more death threats than Bush did, to the tune of 30 per day. Never mind that we have an almost entirely white movement calling for his head and hurling racial slurs at him and any other politician of color. None of that has anything to do with race, right? Because we’re past that! It’s just people, baby! White folks desperately want to believe this and for the most part they have blinded themselves to the actual truth.

So it’s unsurprising to me that people would act irrationally when confronted with an article about the danger of Obama becoming the “angry black man” stereotype in response to the oil spill crisis. Although, as the link says, most of the commenters on the article did not identify their race, I feel it’s safe to assume that the majority of the dissent comes from white people. I say that based on the comments themselves. For example:

“Why is CNN so race obsessed? Black in America part 27! Nobody cares about this stupid crap until they bring it up. The tiny slither of Americans that are racist against blacks are so small and insignificant it just isn’t worth mentioning.”

Somehow I doubt that any person of color would say “nobody cares” about race. The gall it takes to state that there’s only a tiny “slither” [sic] of Americans who are racist against black people could only have come from a white person. Contrary to what white people like the above commenter would like to believe, racism, both institutionalized and personal, is alive and well in the U.S. No need to retire those Klan robes just yet.

The level of ignorance regarding the significance of racial issues post-Obama is astonishing and somewhat frightening. What it reflects is white folks’ eagerness to not have to deal with the whole race thing anymore, without actually unpacking their privilege and doing the necessary internal reflection. Most white people have never wanted to work on their racism. They understand racism only as a personal thing, not a deeply entrenched part of our society. So now that we’ve made it to what white people consider the mountain top, it’s become offensive to call a white person racist because racism is over. Every time something happens that reminds us that racism ISN’T over, such as the Arizona immigration bill being passed or AZ outlawing ethnic studies classes, white people get defensive and angry at people of color who speak out against it for “playing the race card”. Sometimes, as a person of color, just EXISTING qualifies as playing the race card.

I become the Angry Black Woman when I think about how Obama has been treated by the white public. It’s hard for me to listen to criticism of him because so little of the criticism has substance other than just the underlying “he’s not in his place” sentiment. I’m not saying he’s perfect. But he does not deserve the level of vitriol expressed by so many towards him. Just like every other black person that succeeds in a white man’s world, he has to work twice as hard at the same job Bush half-assed for 8 years, and he still doesn’t get the respect he deserves. That makes me very angry. Maybe it’s because I identify with him; maybe it’s because I recognize injustice when I see it.

It’s hard to have a rational conversation about the pros and cons of Obama’s policy decisions in the midst of all the racist red herrings being tossed about by the likes of Glenn Beck and the Teabaggers. Mainly because most white people won’t accept the idea that he is being treated poorly because he is black. Being a black man and making it to the Presidency apparently means that racism no longer applies. I’ve spoken with people who are simply shocked that anyone would think that the hostile environment towards Obama is based on his race. When you look at what’s he’s done so far as President, he’s done nothing so egregious as to warrant an entire movement based on how he’s screwed up the country. But there they are, with signs that read “African Lion… Lyin’ African” next to a picture of a lion and a picture of Obama. Completely non racist, right?

So, I am an Angry Black Woman. I have to be angry to survive. I have to be angry to prevent myself from just giving up on social justice work period. I have to be angry to avoid the death spiral of depression that beckons to me every time I see a racist sign at one of those Teabagger rallies, or a man at an Obama rally with a semi-automatic weapon strapped to his back, or Bill Mahr on TV saying he wants a real black president — basically a thug with a gun.

Obama doesn’t have to be the Angry Black Man to rile white America. Just being a black man is enough.

The first time I used a computer was at 6 years old. It was 1986 and I was introduced to my dad’s Apple IIe. It had some games on it, the most addictive for me being Lode Runner, which I played for hours. It also had Print Shop Pro on it, and my dad had a dot matrix printer, so there was much cheesy fold-up greeting card and banner printing going on.

Then, after about 2 years of playing with the old Apple IIe, in 1988 my mom bought a computer for our house. It was an AMSTRAD, it was from JC Penney, and it died almost immediately upon start up. So then we got a Packard Bell 386, unremarkable except it came with a 2400 baud internal modem — and a subscription to the Prodigy online service. Of course, equipped with a modem I didn’t have to limit myself to paid online services; I made friends on Prodigy and those friends ran BBSes. I spent hours on both, and this was back when online services charged by the minute. The only operating system I used was DOS, graphical user interfaces hadn’t even appeared on my radar. In fact, when I was first introduced to Windows 3.1, I refused to use it. I was a hardcore command line diva, and in some ways I still am, which explains my affinity for Linux.

Eventually I gave in to Windows, got CompuServe and America Online, and upgraded to a 14.4 modem. I started using the Web as soon as it became available, in 1991 or so. I remember the days when web pages were plain text, when flashing rainbow line separators were cool, and animated Under Construction logos were pervasive. I learned basic HTML at an early age and established my homestead on this wild wild web, which I’ve been defending — in some form — ever since.

Now I know CSS, JavaScript, Java, XML and bits of various other computer languages, enough so that I used to work for several dot coms as a web developer. I know about networking, I know how to build a computer, I know how to maintain computers, enough so that I used to make money doing it. I’m not an amateur. But men always think I am. I’m sure they think they’re being helpful when I’m standing in the networking section of Fry’s Electronics deciding what router I should buy and they proceed to give me unsolicited, patronizing advice. Such as explaining what a router is and how networking works. Do I really look like I’m confused? Or is it because I’m a woman in a tech store and you assume I have no idea what I’m doing? I’m going to go with the latter, because I know damn well I didn’t look like I needed help.

When I worked for my first dot-com, I had to work twice as hard, be twice as good (actually, just for kicks, I was three times as good), and be twice as accurate to get taken seriously. And my skills were not appreciated. There was one other woman in my department, and sadly she was nowhere near as skilled, devoted, accurate, or talented as I was. But when the time came to lay people off, I got axed instead of her, because she was going out with one of the founders of the company. Because for women in the tech fields, apparently banging skills are more desirable than coding skills. I’m not trying to hate on her, I’m just pointing out that women’s job skills are not valued. Despite being the most accurate, fastest, and most skilled coder in the department, I got axed instead of the newest hire — a man. Last hired, first fired? Not if there’s a woman to take the fall.

Then at the second dot-com I worked at, I had the pleasure of being sexually harassed by my boss. Human resources told me I had to speak with my boss directly about it. In case you were wondering, uh, confronting the boss who’s sexually harassing you? REALLY awkward. A little while after that, I got laid off. In order to get my severance, I had to sign an agreement that I wouldn’t sue. Since I didn’t have the resources to get a lawyer anyway, and I needed to pay rent, I signed it.

I then decided that if I was going to do tech work, I was doing it on my own. But I still had to deal with patronizing vendors who assumed I didn’t know what components would be best in the computer I was building, or the tech support dudes that assumed I didn’t know about this Windows feature or that Java function. But I dealt with it, kept my head up and soldiered on. For the next 5 years, I did freelance computer work. Of course, I had to charge significantly less than the men in my field to get business. And when I had to collaborate with men, I always got talked down to. It’s like they just can’t help themselves. Don’t even mention the fact I was a black woman doing techie stuff. Their heads were spinning.

The tech world has a lot more women involved now, however it’s still a boys’ club. But, one of my favorite geek toy sites, Think Geek, sells womens’ babydoll shirts now. We’re making strides.

I’ve never been one to hold on to things. I don’t like having extraneous possessions, maybe because so many of my family members and friends are hoarder types. They keep things just because they might be useful one day; they buy things but never open them; they buy books they intend to read but just end up collecting more and more unread books. I pride myself on not doing any of the above.

However, one bad habit I have is that I buy clothes that don’t fit because “they’ll fit when I lose the weight”. I had boxes and boxes of “thinner me” clothes. I’m talking size 8-10, size large at forever 21, 24″ waist. And I also had those clothes that were for when I lost 5 pounds, or 10 pounds, or 15 pounds… you get the picture. Over the past few weeks I’ve slowly been going through them. Reconciling myself to the fact that the really tiny clothes will never fit wasn’t too hard. Since I’ve gotten over the idea that I’m fat, and that’s that, it isn’t a big stretch to sell/donate the skinny stuff.

What was hardest was the process of admitting to myself that I may never lose that 15 pounds, or that 10 pounds, or even that 5 pounds. It’s just emotional baggage to have boxes of size 12, 14 & 16 clothes that don’t fit me as I am now, a size 18, and have been for some time. I want to love myself and dress myself today. I want to have clothes in my closet that I can actually wear, and not just take up space, taunting me until I’m that magic weight so I can fit into them. It’s insulting to my body and it’s unrealistic. Even if I did lose weight, I need to deal with that then because hey, I might not even like this crap at that point. And since I’m not actively trying to lose any more, I don’t anticipate needing to buy new clothes because my old ones are too big.

So I let go. I have no more boxes of clothes. Everything in my closet, 100%, fits me now. It’s a weird but liberating feeling. I’m so used to being in this state of impermanent size. I’m used to having these clothes to try on as a litmus test to see if I’ve lost enough weight. This is the last stop on my journey towards wardrobe freedom. No more too-big, colorless & shapeless clothes to hide behind, & no more too-small clothes to hopelessly strive towards maybe one day fitting into. Now I can work on being myself in the present, dressing and loving this gorgeous fat body that I’m living in right now.

More and more I’m hearing grumbling from the black community that Obama isn’t doing enough to help us out. From not appointing a black woman to the Supreme Court (and I do agree, it’s high time that bridge gets crossed), to taking too long to give black farmers their settlement money, Obama is looking like, well, any other president. As much as I would like for him to be the Great Black Hope and focus on lifting up the black community, I recognize his reality — his political opponents are all too eager to claim he’s playing the race card or offering preferential treatment to black people because of his race. I mean, these are people who expect apologies when they get called racist for calling a black person a nigger.

Let me take a second here to explain something. I feel kind of a kinship with Obama. We are both half white, both raised by a white mother and grandparent (his grandmother, my grandfather), both grew up with little to no contact with our black fathers, and both struggled with defining ourselves in a world that wants to put you in a neat little box. When all the drama around his radical black pastor, Reverend Wright, started during the campaign, I understood why Obama would attend a church led by an ideologue like Rev. Wright. And I understood why Rev. Wright was an ideologue. Because when you’re a light skinned black person, or half white, or in any way do not fit into the mold of what people think a black person is supposed to be, you feel like you have to prove yourself. You have to fight to be black. So, many go the militant route. I speak from experience, because I became intensely interested in African-American and African history partly in response to criticism I faced from other black folks that I wasn’t “black enough”. It became my mission to learn as much as possible about our history, culture, and current situation in the world. I’m glad I did, because it enabled me to be a much better advocate for equal rights, and a much more informed opponent of racism. I just wish the impetus for my enlightenment wasn’t me trying to defend my place in the black continuum. I think Obama may have faced down the same issues I did, so I can see the position he’s coming from.

Since Obama was elected, many white people seem to think race is no longer an issue and are annoyed when PoC point out that it still is. Barack is in a delicate situation. On the one hand, he full well knows that there are serious, systemic inequities between the races that need to be addressed. But on the other, any time he focuses on race, he’s accused of, well, focusing on race. To most white people, the objective is to be “colorblind”. Just don’t talk about race and it will go away. Unfortunately, things don’t work like that. We don’t need to deny that there are differences between races. We just need to recognize that those differences don’t mean that PoC should be discriminated against, and we need to fight for equality across the board. Sometimes that entails things that white people label “reverse racism”, like affirmative action. Sometimes diversity does need to be enforced because white people aren’t going to change on their own if they don’t have to. But since we apparently now live in a “post-racial” world, in white folks’ eyes, that is tantamount to racism towards white people. It’s an unfortunate truth that most white people don’t understand institutionalized racism. They see racism as simply a one-on-one reality. If they personally don’t hate PoC, they aren’t racist. If they personally don’t discriminate against PoC, racism doesn’t exist. If there’s a black president, we’ve made all the gains we need to to have equality between the races. Being white is a very self-centered identity.

So Obama must walk the tightrope between the actual realities of race dynamics and what white people think those realities are. Whereas our white presidents consistently focused on improving the situations of the members of their race, it was not seen that way by white people, because white is the default. If Obama spent his time focusing on issues that affect only black people or other PoC, he would be seen as being “racist” towards white people, or a militant ideologue. It doesn’t matter how small the issue is. To avoid that labeling, he must avoid race for the most part. He is constantly reminded that he has to govern for all citizens, and in America the majority of the citizens are white.

I want Obama to be bold and deal with racial issues head on. I want him to focus on creating equality between the races. But the fact is, he’s a politician. His job depends on keeping white people placated. So I don’t expect much different from him as far as racial issues than I would from any other President. Am I disappointed? Of course. Surprised? No.