Sunday, March 19, 2006

Who's Your Daddy?

This post is fairly simple and straightforward in that it consists only of a story and a lesson. The title probably makes you think this entry is about father-less children, but it is not. Please read on...

I was in Chicago most of last week for a conference. My last night in town, which happened to be St. Patrick's Day, some friends and I went to the Funky Buddha to hang out. Directly across the street from the Funky Buddha is an Irish bar. (I'm sure you can tell where this is going by now.) As my girl Renee, one of her old co-workers Ben, and I made our way past the Irish bar as we walked to Ben's car, a group of white people walked out of the Irish bar. As we walked through this group of white people, one of the drunk white guys says to me, in a very nasty and condescending tone, "Are you a mulatto -- Who's your daddy?" As if to imply that he had just finished raping my black mother. Ben immediately turned around and asked, "What the hell did you just say?" I immediately turned around and asked, "What did you say to me?" One of the white women in their group (who clearly had issues with this guy already) points to him and literally screams "You're a disgrace!!" (Although it wasn't quite clear whether she was referring to his inappropriate comments or something that happened earlier.) The guy back peddles a little at that point and says we just walked into the middle of a bad situation. Ben then encouraged us to move on as that situation was not going to get any better.

Okay, seriously, who says that to someone? The three of us, still stunned by the comments, went to breakfast and had a good laugh about it. However, it's really not funny at all, and is in fact very sad. It's 2006. Yes, 2006, and white folks still think it is okay to make comments like that to black folks.

Quick history lesson courtesy of Ben. The origin of the word "mulatto" is from the Spanish and Portuguese word "mula," which means "mule." And as Ben pointed out, a mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse. The fact that white folks (not all, I know there are exceptions) think it is okay to refer to me as a mulatto, and then ask who's my daddy, is a problem.

So that's the story. The lesson is this: Don't sleep. Racism is alive and well. Many white folks may be able to mask their racism most of the time, but trust that it is embedded in the back of their heads, and only takes some liquor to bring it out.



Anonymous said...

But no one's really racist anymore, right? :(

Sadly, I think we have come far enough as a society that it's tempting to sit back, relax, and forget about the well-hidden racism that still pervades our culture. It's tempting to forget that we are less than one full generation removed from the historic civil rights struggle that took many lives, required many sacrifices, and created some fundamental changes that improved our lives as black people.

When I was a first-year law student, a white male classmate of mine (soon after meeting me) said to me, "Wow; you're a double minority! What LSAT score did you have -- a 10?" As painful as such a comment was to hear, I think it actually benefitted me in that it taught me to be aware that those with whom I practice do not always consider me a peer. Instead, some consider me an affirmative action wanna-be lawyer who has achieved success only through the "handout" of affirmative action. I take great pleasure in proving them wrong. :)

Sorry you had to endure that, Notta, and I know it's tempting to laugh off a bizarre comment from a drunk guy. But there's a nugget of truth that rests somewhere in his words, whether it's his attitude toward black women or biracial women or simply anyone who is different than he is. Thank you for posting.

ljh1999 said...

What you say is true. Liquor often does bring out the worst in people. Racism, sexism, classism, and any other "ism" you can think of are all revealed under the auspices of inebriation. The feelings and thoughts are there, waiting for the freedom of intoxication to give them release without the feelings of guilt that should be associated with the voicing of such thoughts.

I think, however, that the drunken utterances of a bigot are helpful, and sometimes needed to remind us of the regard we are held in and the environment in which we live. Notta, his comment to you was completely wrong and inappropriate, but your experience may help someone else wake up to the reality of our society. Thank you for sharing.

thespookwhosatbythedoor said...

I am disgusted and appalled! The audacity of these ofays never ceases to amaze me.

I'm glad that you kept it moving, and left them to their ignorance. As you said, racism is still alive and well. The funny thing is that a lot of whites think that racism ended with MLK's "I have a dream" speech.

BTW, I'm glad you took the time to define mulatto. There are some people who take pride in calling themselves "mule-attos," and don't know how ignorant they sound.

Keep your head up Notta! :)

r. parrish said...

Wow...that comment was completely out of line. Unfortunately we all have to experience the ignorance of racism on occassion. Even more unfortunate is when you experience it at the hands of other black folks. Just the other day I walked into a drug store with a friend to buy some lotion (we're both black). As we are deciding what to purchase, we hear the black female photo tech. on the intercom announce that "a security sweep is needed in aisle 10." With a knowing grin on my face I look up to see what aisle my friend and I are in and wouldn't you know it...? We're the only people in aisle 10.

I honestly find most racist encounters slightly amusing even though they are also admittedly very irritating. I find them amusing because you realize how uninformed and ridiculous most of these people are. I've also realized that it ain't always white folks discriminating against you. You're right can't sleep because racism is being perpetrated and perpetuated by white folks and black folks alike. It sometimes saddens me more to know that my own people see me as a thief or dangerous based upon nothing but the same stereotypes that white folks subscribe to.

To be sure, what that man said to Notta was unfortunate and hurtful. But are the politics of skin color and ancestry within the black community any less hurtful? I'm not sure they aren't. I often feel as if we should know better since we experience racism and ignorance at the hands of whites and know how dehumanizing and awful it feels to then turn around and internalize those attitudes and judge one another on those bases. Makes no sense to me and is very frustrating, but I see no reason to exclude ourselves from the discussion or absolve us from any guilt.

beyourowndiva said...

Regarding the word mulatto.
The insult is obvious. In addition, mules are unable to reproduce and are genetically inferior to both horses and donkeys. The word was used to express this theory as if being bi-racial is the same as a very serious birth defect that would compromise your quality of life.

What strikes me is that he KNEW he was entitled to demand an answer & that you would be obliged to answer! The infinate depths of ignorance are AMAZING!

I am bi-racial and I would not change a thing. As a reality check, Black people I get crap from us too! I get interrogated as if to say my DNA would instantly change based on the conclusion of the person asking the questions. Someone, sometime, somewhere decided a person was only black if your Mom is black or if your Dad is black!
Hmm? Is Halle Berry , whose mother is white any less black than Lenny Kravitz whose, mother is black? I could go on & on about the asinine urban myths that are supposedly fail proof determinations of your race.

Because of my race doesn't match my face. I KNOW RACISM is alive & well! I hear it in the raw when people are stone sober! The things some people say when they think no one is looking are more vile than when they are trying to hide it.

It comes from BOTH sides! However, it is different. Black people don't usually express hate or elitism. Black people experience on going racism from "registered" racists & from some people who don't even know they are racists. But we can't add to the problem. BLACK PEOPLE, as all, people need to stop fueling the beast of racism. We are better than that!

Anonymous said...

I too am appalled at that drunken slob's comments and am sorry that you were subjected to such ignorance and disrespect. I agree that it does come from both sides. And maybe it's because I expect Black people to know better, but I am even more aggravated when it is my own people doing this. Although I am not biracial, I am fair-skinned with blue eyes. Total strangers will ask, "Whatchu mixed with?" or "Those your real eyes?" as if they are unaware that no one is purely of one race unless they just got off the boat from whatever country has only one race of people. As if they don't know that Black people, as do many other races, come in many different colors with different hair types and eye colors. I can't believe that people forget that just because my parents are labeled as Black doesn't mean one of my ancestors wasn't. PLEASE PEOPLE - don't ask a complete stranger about his or her ethnic makeup. It's just rude.