Growing Up Beige: Black People Scare Squirrels

My mom loves telling this story about when I was a little girl walking with her through Fairmount Park.

We’re walking through the park, I was about 4 years old. A squirrel runs by as we get near.

“Mommy, you scared that squirrel.”

“Yeah, squirrels are scared of people. They’ll run when we get too close.”

“Yeah okay, but you scared the squirrel.”

“Me? You didn’t scare it too?”

“No.”

“Well why did scare the squirrel?”

“Because you’re brown.”

Yeah guys, from the mouth of a four year old, black people scare squirrels. Wait, it gets worse!

“So I scared the squirrel because I’m brown?”

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t scare the squirrel?”

“No?”

“But you’re brown too…”

My mom says I looked confused.

“No, I’m beige.”

14445037_10210847109072381_5376761301521791153_o

^Brown^

snapchat-2683227221415763607

^Beige^

So where do squirrels draw the line in their discrimination? My mom investigated further.

“So who else is brown? Does your Gran Gran scare squirrels?”

14925639_10211242220989932_7239356656815570433_n

“No.”

“How about your uncle Elliott?”

13775897_10209143180872114_4476687155581597513_n

“Yes.”

And from those separate ends of the spectrum, my mom asked about people closer and closer to my complexion, and she discovered that squirrels then started discriminating based on hair texture. Relatives with straightened hair were beige, those with curly or kinky hair were brown. This was me at four years old.

I used to share that story as a joke. It was funny and crazy how prejudice I was as a kid, and completely untaught to be so. Shocking, but comical. Kids say the darndest things, right? I told the story to a couple people sitting at the bar at my cafe one day. Peers, fellow 20-somethings. White. Typical coffeeshop types. I got a reaction I had never experienced before. It made them sad. They shook their heads in disbelief.

“To think that there are children growing up to see their own race as bad, scary even, just in their innocent understanding of their world…heartbreaking. This is where we are, sad,” one of them said to me.

They understood the underlying sinister cause of a child to have such a worldview. I guess it was one thing to understand the forces at play in your society, to understand the concept of racism and institutionalized racism. But to actually apply that to personal accounts isn’t something they’re often privy to. It had never occurred to me either until that moment, honestly.

I haven’t grown up to be much different in my understanding of the world since four years of age. If anything, I’ve gotten worse. A simple internalization of the imbalance of my world turned into confirmations through negative experiences that maybe this imbalance is justified, and I’m happy to not associate with the receivers of the short end. I’m beige, and squirrels don’t fear me. I can walk through the park peacefully.

I’m going to share more memories and stories of growing up beige, because I didn’t think it was something anyone would find relatable, but maybe it is. I’ve felt bad not following through on my promise of a piece about Michael Brown when I posted Java and Jokes on Hold two whole years ago. I didn’t forget. When I sat and tried to write, I just didn’t know how to talk about it. I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t feel like my feeling upset was legitimate, because I’ve never associated with the black community. Would my beige words matter? Would they seem sincere? Why did I suddenly care, really? From what perspective do I write this? Am I angry or upset enough? Wait, this kind of stuff happens all the time? I didn’t know. I might as well be a white person trying to care, because I never felt so outside. Rather, I’ve never felt uncomfortable being outside. I was entering a point in my life that I never imagined reaching, 

The point where being beige became unsustainable. 

And I don’t know which way is forward. But I have to figure it out, and I invite you on the adventure too.

 

Advertisements

Diet Black

Soooo it’s fall!!! Which means CHANGE! And I’m excited because now I live in a place where it truly does mean change. I forgot that leaves change colors til I moved back here to Philadelphia. I like it! And I get to wear scarves everyday without looking inappropriate. It’s great! But besides the scarves, I’m kind of unprepared for the coming cold.

I have to go out and buy a comforter now. I need to dig out all of my long sleeves and sweaters from the murky depths of my closet. I also have to work on repairing all the sun damage my skin suffered this past summer.

Yes, sun damage.

Like…sunburn.

I don’t get it either. Maybe all of those kids who called me ‘white girl’ growing up were right after all.

I’ve been a victim of sunburn for the third year in a row. I don’t know what’s going on with the world and this climate change business, I should probably read more. But there’s definitely SOMETHING happening. And it’s not good news for all the mulattos out there dealing with issues we’ve never had to deal with. It’s a problem I’m just not equipped to handle or even recognize, for that matter.

Anyone who has seen me in recent days might have noticed some strange discoloration on my nose. Like patches of brown and pink in a marbled pattern. That would be a colony of scabs and raw flesh that you see. Because in my world, or what I thought was my world, I see skin peeling off of my face and I’m thinking, TIME TO EXFOLIATE.

So I scrub the dead skin off. Beat it like it stole something. Wake up the next day, walk into the bathroom, look in the mirror, and WHAT THE FEEZY?

My nose is just black. And not in the sense that I’m black, but the color black. A scab totally took over the middle of my face. And I just thought to myself, dammit not again…

The first time this happened, I was in high school, and I had to show my face in class that day. I walk up to my peoples and they just stared at my nose. Didn’t even ask, but waited for an explanation.

“See, what had happened was…

I told them my skin was peeling and so I sloughed off the dead skin with an exfoliating face wash. They didn’t seem as dumbfounded by the results as I was…

“You moron, you don’t scrub sunburn! That makes it worse!!!”

Sun…

burn..? 

You mean that thing that happens to white people?

HAH! Yeah right, as if I could get sunburn. I’m too melanin for such things.

After years and years of being everyone’s cultural experience in the ‘burbs like I’m some ambassador for blackness, my white friends finally taught me something. Something about their world. And they can have it back.

My nose is healing little by little. Probably would be alleviated completely by now if I didn’t stop scrubbing it, but I still don’t get it I guess. I’m actually going to have to wear sunscreen next summer. I dread the very thought. That stuff smells weird.

So now I’m kind of worried. What is to become of the other little perks of being kinda black that I happily indulge in everyday? My melanin advantage isn’t the only thing that’s been threatened recently.

I feel like I’m also losing my edge in interracial social dynamics.

Confession folks, I greatly enjoy using the ignorance of white people to my advantage whenever I can. I grew up in the suburbs of various cities, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I can get what I want on many an occasion by just adding emphasis on my ethnicity. For some reason, white people seem to think that every non stereotypical black American is like a ticking time bomb of rachet, and you never know when it will go off. Like it’s a stagnant part of our personality that can be triggered at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction with anything and everything. They will do anything to avoid seeing it come out. It’s hilarious. Exploiting that preconception is a common tactic I use in customer service. It’s probably wrong, but whatever. This is essentially my face when guests act a fool at work…

 “I’m sorry, what did you say was wrong with your meal? Nothing? That’s what I thought.”

It also doesn’t hurt that I’m 5’12″(YES, FIVE FEET TWELVE INCHES), and I rock my hair natural now. I just ooze intimidating from my blackish pores.

If you didn’t know already, I’m pretty awkward socially. I might make a post about it, or a couple, in the future, but one way I manage to socialize with people is to just drag them down to the world of awkward, where I call home, and then seize control of the conversation. Once everyone is good and uncomfortable, then good conversating can commence. I’ve always thought I looked pretty black, but I constantly get asked what I am, so I always take this opportunity to flop the conversation, and reply with, “Other.”

“What does that mean?”

“Whatever I want it to mean.”

“……”

Or,

“Wow, I like your hair!”

“Thanks, it’s a little more ethnic than normal today, but it’s still rockin’ I think.”

“…It’s what?”

“A little more ethnic than usual.”

“……”

Because social interaction is much more fun when neither of us know what to say next.

I can’t lose this on top of my solar immunity, people. How will I ever make new friends? Okay I have a couple other ways to throw people off. Like,

“Hey are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE!” ,’:)

Or,

“Can you turn on the air? I’m hot.”
IN MORE WAYS THAN ONEEEEE!” ‘,:)

But you kinda have to wait around for people to say those. And I do. I look a little too forward to it…

“How are you?”

“I’m f—”

IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE!”

“—eeling alright…”

O_o …

    …    o_O

*backs away slowly*

But you know what never needs to be welcomed into conversation? Race jokes. I know, I’m the problem. Sorry, but it’s one of the few advantages I get. Let me have this!