a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Thoughts on Shit White Girls Say…To Black Girls

Posted on: January 5, 2012

If you haven’t seen the latest and best addition of the Shit {Blank People} Say, then take a moment and watch it right now. 

Amazing right?  Don’t think so?  Watch it again and get back to me.

Yesterday morning Francesca Ramsey was a woman with a successful YouTube channel, and by the afternoon she’d gone viral.  Shit White Girls Say…To Black Girls is probably one of the most accurate videos I’ve seen.  In normal Erika fashion I quickly found everything I could about Francesca.  I’ve stalked her all day long, shamelessly.  I even admitted my stalking on Twitter and am pretty sure that she won’t follow me back, though I hope she will because I feel like we could be friends, or better yet, I’d like to interview her.

Thing is, white girls have said about 99% of those things to me and more. 

You’re not, like, really black-black, you know? 

 You’re kinda white, you know? 

You really don’t seem like a regular black person, you know? 

and

Ohmigod, you’re the whitest black girl I know.

Francesca is getting a lot of flack from people from all over, but I’m pretty sure the people who have a problem with what she’s saying have a problem because they know that it’s true.  I’m convinced that people are afraid of their own prejudice, their own ignorance and their own bigotry.  Comments like, You speak so well or You don’t sound like those other black people, or You’re the whitest black person may seem to be compliments, but it’s really that persons inability to see black folks in any other way than the image they have in their own mind. 

Granted, on an average subway ride through New York City you’re bound to hear conversations that validate the media portrayal of shit blacks, Asians, Latinas, Gays and white girls say…but it’s not all we say.  The only time I fit into the “black box” is on the U.S. Census, and that’s the only place anyone should ever fit into a box.  Even then, the boxes are not accurate.

For the record, here’s some more shit that white (and black) girls have said to me.

Can I touch your hair?  Did you see Good Hair?  Your hair looks different every day!  Can I touch your hair?  What did you do to your hair?  How did you get your hair like that?  Do you have a weave?  Have you ever had a weave?  So, how does a weave work?  Do You watch Oprah? 

You like white girl music.  You watch white girl movies.  You sound kind of like me, but not since you’re black.

Why are you trying to act white?  Why do you sound so white?  Can’t you just talk like a black person?

I think some of it comes from white people being around “safe black people.”  Black folks who are either not what one expects, biracial people, or blacks in college classes or work spaces seem to be safe and less-scary than blacks on the street, riding the subway, or on television.  So you’re in a safe space with a “safe black person” and all of a sudden things you’d never say to a person on the street or on the subway just fly out of the mouth without bounds.  You say things like “Black people are so X, but I don’t mean you, I mean them.

Sure it could be curiosity, and if I feel like a person is being genuinely curious and genuinely cares I will share.  For example, when I was on the Be’chol Lashon family retreat I had a lot of conversations about hair and it was the only time I didn’t care if white people touched my hair without asking because most of those white people were raising black children.  Coming into contact with someone (me) who wears natural hair is sort of an in.  The majority of beauty salons that cater to black women are more comfortable applying relaxers or putting in braids and weaves than they are about sulfate-free, lo/no suds shampoos and caring for natural hair.  So having frank and honest conversations with people who really care is different than a person who I work with asking to touch my hair because we work for same company.  To be clear, no one at my current job has asked these stupid questions.

Is it fair to say they’re stupid questions?  Yes.  I think so.  If you don’t think it’s stupid (and rude) to ask a black person to touch their hair, for instance, I think you may have a problem.  Communication, inclusion, diversity, education and awareness are all things I’m passionate about-especially in the Jewish community.  Creating those spaces doesn’t come with asking rude questions or making rude statements.  They don’t come by writing the narratives of others, they come from listening and learning.

When I hear, “You speak so well.”  The person is actually saying, “You speak so well for a Negro.”  Don’t be fooled, racism is alive and well in the United States in 2012.  Instead of a cross burning in your front lawn or separate seating areas on the bus it comes in the form of insult disguised as compliments and bigotry wrapped up in gross affirmations. 

Like the assertions I made in the Latke post, I think that if what Francesca said in her video offends you, dig deep into what exactly you found offensive.  Reflect on interactions you have with people who are a different race or religion than you.  We all say really stupid shit, and sometimes it’s funny.  But that laughter should also make you think.

 

 

19 Responses to "Thoughts on Shit White Girls Say…To Black Girls"

It’s funny because Francesca is funny – the “Superbass” singing, the over-the-too facial expressions, the coming-through-your-screen-to-touch-your-hair effect. That said, I find it offensive not because it resonates with me but because it doesn’t. And I think that’s OK, & probably true for other people, & the insinuation that I’d find it offensive because it secretly reflects my thoughts or actions is also sort of offensive, frankly. I can’t imagine saying most of of these things (OK, I might sing “Superbass”!) to anyone. Anyone who thinks these are OK things to say needs to reflect on the implications, underlying meanings, & their own personal biases.

I dunno, and this has nothing to do with you personally because I obviously don’t know you, I think it kind of does. For instance, watching a Tyler Perry Movie, for instance offends me because that’s not my life. It offends me because I hate that because of his box office fame it is assumed that that is my black narrative, when it isn’t.

Also, I think that sometimes people do say really awful or steroptypical things or ask really offensive questions. More than that, I know that I think things that I would never say out loud, even about other black people.

If I’m on a subway car and there’s a bunch of loud Spanish-speaking people I may sit as far away from them as possible. I tell myself that it’s because I want quiet, but if I search my soul it’s because I might be a little scared, or a little unsure of what “they” might do.

If I see a random white guy walking down my street at night, I’ll probably walk on the other side of the street.

Again, I’m not saying this is you. I personally find that when I sit with discomfort, I find out a lot about myself.

I didn’t find it at all offensive. I figured she did not intend it as a reflection of ALL white girls.

Obviously, not ALL white girls say these things 🙂

Another great post Erika!
The real challenge is trying to teach one’s children about stereotypes.
My 5 year old white son made friends a black girl at school but got freaked out when she came to school with braids after wearing her hair natural for the first month of school. Needless to say, it resulted in a long conversation at home.
Do you have any tips on raising children to be aware of the stereotypes they see in the media or encounter at school?
If you ever find a great article on this topic, please share it.
Thanks!

Well, with a mama like you I know your boys are getting an amazing education on diversity. That said, the thing that freaks me out the most is what my kids will learn in school, the things that I won’t be able to control as a parent and how they react to it. Like him getting freaked out about his friend’s braids.

As adults, I always think that asking questions is better than making assumptions. It’s something I’m used to in the LGBTQ world, asking people’s preferred gender pronouns for example. But I often ask people and let people know things that I’m okay with and not okay with. I prefer gay or queer over lesbian, I prefer black over African American.

If I find some articles, I’ll be sure to send them to you.

There are a lot of really great children’s books about diversity and Sesame Street has a character with natural hair that changes a lot, there are YouTube Videos I think it’s called I love My Hair.

I personally think it’s fine to ask real questions in a way that allows for conversation. Obviously among five year olds, that would be a little different. But maybe have the teacher bring in guests, friends, different types of people to come in and talk about ways that people are the same and different. I keep thinking about that kindergarden teacher who talked about gender roles with her class…I think I posted it on FB two weeks ago.

WHOAH I don’t think I’ve ever said anything like any of those…. to anyone. It’s laughably dumb, the things some people say. Almost as laughably dumb when my mom demanded to know if I expected her to tell people that I was ‘a…. a… LEZBO???’ Except that was funnier to me because it was, well… my mom.

That being said, I personally don’t have any black friends because I don’t have any friends. But I get a lot of black customers who are, of course, people who deserve all of my respect, just like all my customers do. Several of them have found my mockery of the white yuppy funnier than my white yuppy customers, but I think there’s a reason for that on the white yuppy end of things.

I hope THIS didn’t come off racist. I never know if I’m offensive or not on this subject.

Totally not racist 🙂 I think conversations about race are important, I think people are afraid to talk about race and what is and is not racist for fear of coming off racist-but the conversations need to happen. Conversations about race, religion, gender, etc. are important to have so that there is a better understanding of other people.

I’m sure my views are flawed, so I won’t be upset if anyone wants to lash out at me.

I left America for Brazil years ago. I like America, but the one thing I never liked there is the race relations. Why does everyone have to assign themselves to a classification in America? American isn’t going to move forward until people start dropping these classifications and think on a *national* level and not a racial level.

Brazil on the other hand, is a real melting pot. Most of the people have traces of indian/african/european/middle eastern, so you never know what most people are. I think the largest segment of the population is comprised of pardos, which is a mix of white and black, and usually some indian in there too. There has been a few people who have tried to create a black power movement or try to use their race to a *commercial advantage*, but this is a very small percentage, and not very successful if you ask me. Most people just live their lives, identifying more with the nation, the Brazilian culture as a whole.

If you looked at my wife, you would definitely conclude that she is white, even to American standards. But she has a grandmother that was 3/4 black and her husband (my wife’s grandfather) was from lebanon, a middle easterner.

If you ask my wife what she is, how does she respond?:
white – nope
black – nope
european – nope
lebanese – nope
Brazilian – yes.

It’s time to move on….

Hey Martin,

Thanks so much for your comments. I watched a Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Special called Black Latin Americans a while back. They highlighted Brazil in one of the episodes and the findings were in line with what you’re saying. Still, in advertisements the women highlighted, on covers of magazines, in commercials were all lighter-skinned, straight-haired women as opposed to the darker-skinned, curlier-haired women.

I think that America definitely has issues around race and racism. I think a lot of it has to do with how black people were brought to America, the institution of slavery and the civil rights of blacks, in particular, in the United States. That said, throughout the world standards of beauty are often fairer.

It’s not as easy as getting over it and moving on because there is much to learn and to be learned from the beauty of ethnicities and racial differences in the United States. Deep down, none of us are really just Americans, even though we’d like to think so. Instead we’re black, white, Jewish, etc…

We’re such a media-focused nation, but we’re not much different than other countries in the quest for lighter, whiter skin over darker skin. Whiteness is equal to beauty, intelligence, wealth and darker skins colors are not. It is a problem, but conversations about race and ethnicity is important to who Americans are. It would be unfortunate and almost impossible to see someone as just an American verses their race and ethnicity. My blackness makes me who I am, and I need you to see that and to try to understand what that means, while still realizing that what it means for me, isn’t necessarily what it means for another black person. But to try to take that away and just see me for an American doesn’t give you the full picture of who I am and what my history is.

I don’t have an easy answer, but I think that education about race, ethnicity and diversity needs to be an on-going conversation in education. Not just an elective you can take for credit for one semester in college, or just during Black History Month, but a constant part of learning.

Hi Erika,

I have to agree with you. It is not easy to move on and I personally don’t think we should have an “American” race. I am proud of my blackness and will have conversations about race and ethnicity whenever I can. I believe Black people have to be proud of who we are and where we come from because other people will not do it for us. Black people have been shunned, killed, raped, abused, disrespected, and hated for too many years. Others need to know that we are still hurting in this “wonderful” country that is America. Others need to know that we fought for this country and still cannot reap the benefits afforded to others. Our struggle is ongoing so why shouldn’t we be proud? Why would we want our history to be erased? No, we should not just move on. Learning happens through experience and dialogue and I will fight to continue that dialogue because we have not reached any promise land yet.

With love,
Moxy

I agree with you. America is a weird country, isn’t it? I think any where else you go people identify with their country, but that’s not how our country was created. I’d imagine that if you go to France people would identify as French, but if you ask an individual the ethnicities would eventually come to the surface. When I’m in other countries, I’m clearly American but in America it is more nuanced than that.

Seeing people’s race and ethnicity is very important in learning about who that person is, we don’t have a shared past, and I’m happy for that.

I agree, it’s about creating and sustaining a dialogue that is meaningful and honest.

Actually, they had slavery in Brazil, and I think a lot more of it compared to America. I don’t expect you ladies to know this because you all live there, and not here, but I think one of the most popular novela (soap opera) actresses is Thais Araújo (look put her name in Google because the link got messed up when I tried to post it here). I have seen her with straight hair, but usually it’s curly. Lazaro Ramos (guy) is everywhere, in almost every national film that is made and he is definitely dark complected. There’s actually several more, but I think you get my point (that your source is not complete). You should come here sometime to check it out. It’s a nice place.

There was slavery all over the “New World” everywhere from Brazil to the Virgin Islands, I’m well aware of black slaves outside of the United States.

My point isn’t just Brazil-specific, it’s a world-wide preference for lighter-color skins than darker-colored skin in media, in advertisements. Exceptionally beautiful people or talented actors/actresses are definitely an exception.

I think we’re on the same page.

I found 99% of the video was true for me too. As a black girl who grew up in a predominately white community, many of those questions were asked of me. More so at my job when I went natural 8 years ago (being the only black in the office), my hair was a matter of intrigue. My first true induction into my own people was going to a Historically black college and even my own people commented on my speech and say things like “You talk like a white girl” (like whites are the only race allowed to speak proper English!). At college I did not fit in and some folks thought I was different because of my speech, but that’s ok. I’ve never had problems with my white friends asking about my hair but I definitely do have a no touch policy (unless u ask first). I don’t walk up and just touch my white friend’s hair…why should they feel it’s appropriate to do it to me? I’ve showed this video to some of my friends just as a teaching lesson and we’ve had some great in-depth conversations about race that we’ve never had before. I applaud Franchesca for her video!

I think some white people, especially the more shielded ones, CAN BE really clueless sometimes.

Completely clueless, which is why we’re here to educate them !

Confession: I sometimes break curly hair rule number 1-DO NOT TOUCH with some of my white friends! (See, we’re all at fault! 🙂 ) But I usually ask…as I’m touching. I just like curls. But I definitely try to abide by the rule

Part of the personal work that I’ve done and a big chunk of my personal memoir is about being comfortable in my own black skin. As Moxy and Martin have said, black is so many different things with so many different stories, experiences, and expectations. I can’t squish myself into a box that doesn’t fit me and I can’t always meet someone elses (whether they be black or not) expectations of their blackness, I can only own my own.

The speech situation was a painful part of my existence in my black community and in my family. I was often told by people closest to me that I was an oreo or a honky which really hurt…It’s literally only in the last 5-7 years that I’ve started to not care about what anyone else thinks of me and just feel comfortable in my own skin.

Moxy,

How can you NOT reap the benefits?? America is free and open to everyone. There are incentive for minorities, and especially women minorities in the workforce.

About classification, you’re right. In the end, it’s just a matter of choice and preference.

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