Monday, November 22, 2010
Barbie is Black
My Mother is White. My older sister is White. My younger brother is White. And somehow I managed to turn out Brown. I guess they left me in the oven too long. I'm not sure how all of this happened but it did. The important thing to understand about all of this is that it's very funny. Please allow me to explain.
My Mother is very possessive over family photographs because they tend to go missing when any of the children tend to bother them (White people are always neurotic about Black people stealing from them; even when it’s their own children, for Christ’s sake!). I make annual trips back home during the summer and one of the first things I always do is open up the family album so I can get my one and only annual opportunity to reflect on my ridiculous childhood. It seems the more distance I get from my past the more insane it appears. Growing up as the only Brown child in a sea of White people did not feel nearly as awkward as one would imagine. However, the pictures tell a very different story. Seeing a photo with a seemingly White and also vertically challenged family smiling together is somehow made obscure when in the center is a string bean Brown child with un-kept naps at the tops of his head. "One of these things is not like the other...." I looked like the adopted orphan from Uganda. I’m pretty sure when I would walk around with my Mother in our incredibly religious Caucasian town, people probably thought we were dating. My mother claims to be 5 feet which I think is a bit of a stretch. If you gave my mother a parasol and slapped a tiara on her head you would swear she was Princess Toadstool. My younger brother looks like Aaron Carter and Justin Bieber’s lovechild. And my sister, whom is the subject of today’s rant looks like Barbie. If you’ve noticed I haven’t been using anyone’s real name (including my own) so let’s refer to my loving sister as such; Barbie. (P.S. Her hair is actually black now (it's lovely), she's channeling Vanessa Hudgens, but for the sake of consistency we'll call her Barbie.)
I’m thinking back specifically to a picture in the family album of my sister and I. Barbie was maybe 6 and I would have been 2 years old. The picture is of us lying on the couch (my Grandmother refers to this as a "chesterfield", we'll get to her at a later blog!). We were sleeping and I’m wrapped in her arms. We look like the most beautiful bi-racial dumplings you’ve ever seen! All you would need is one more Black toddler on the other side of my sister and we would have made a perfect Oreo. My Mother (Princess Toadstool) says that we were inseparable. Barbie has good taste. It’s amazing to think that my sister had so much intuition and foresight to be able to predict the popularity of Black babies decades before it was made popular by the likes of Angelina Jolie, Madonna, and Sandra Bullock. Barbie has always been ahead of the times. Like all siblings, we did not remain inseparable forever. At some point we have to part ways with our families and grow individually. I remember Barbie being very popular and incredibly beautiful (she still is). I looked up to her as any younger sibling would. I always took notice to the way she dressed and the things she did. I really took to heart the things she would say to me. I remember the first time she or anyone had began to make mention of me looking any different than everybody in my family. Perhaps it was only natural that these observations would be pointed out to me by one of the members of my family. They, more than anyone, were concerned about my place in the world. I, however, was perfectly comfortable not being aware how odd and displaced I may have seemed but it was inevitable that someone would point it out. I realize now that it was better that it came from inside the family where I knew I was ultimately loved. Barbie took that torch and ran with it. I just didn't expect it.
One day I was in my room, Barbie came in with a cassette tape. She played it and began singing; it was Deborah Cox (**famous Canadian reference #1, please memorize these as there will be a test at a later date, with prizes). First of all, I have to mention that in retrospect it is quite embarrassing to admit that the White people in my family are far superior than I in the Mariah Carey bi-racial singing department, especially my sister. After a few bars she paused a moment. She looked at me and said, “Do I sound Black when I sing?”. Silence. “What the Christ are you talking about?”, was the unspoken response in my head. This was completely ludicrous to me. “Do I sound Black”, what does that even mean? There I am sitting with my own flesh and blood sister asking me if she sounds like the race that is the same as my biological father whom neither of us had met. I wasn’t offended, nor am I now (I have no reason to be). However, I was perplexed beyond belief. I didn’t know how to respond. I paused for an inordinate period of time and quietly said “Yes” simply.
When I was 12, I overheard Barbie use the phrase “tap that”. She used this phrase a lot. In researching the language of Ebonics I found out later that "Can I tap that?” is in reference to a man of African-American decent inquiring to a lady if he may engage in penetrative activities with her undercarriage (that's the area between the front vagina and the back vagina). Upon hearing this phrase, I thought it was the most amazing thing ever. I still think it’s pretty amazing but whenever I use it I am always sure to add the word “please” at the end. Respect is something that is earned. My sister grew out of the use of this unbelievable term. She’s now 28, married with a daughter in Kindergarden. Perhaps one would say that this would be an inappropriate time in her life to start casually using this type of jargon again (even as a joke) but I for one disagree. My sister really was always several steps ahead of me in the ebonics department. I'm not sure how this happened. I watched B.E.T. more than she did. She had some Indian friends. Maybe that was close enough? However she became abreast of the idiosyncrasies of the African American speech is still a mystery to me but the fact that she was seriously ahead of the game became increasingly more apparent to me as we got older.
One day I was sitting in front of the television or "the boob tube" as Princess Toadstool calls it. I was watching one of my favorite Black shows to further educate myself on "my people". The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (please refer back to my earlier blog where I reference my unfortunate confrontation with this hairstyle). Everytime I watched the program I always saw myself as the Carlton of the family. Do you remember the dance Carlton did? Barbie is actually amazing at this dance! You wouldn't believe it until you saw it. I really want her to do it at my wedding one day. I'll have to make sure I use the restroom before she does it otherwise I will probably pee myself in my white suit. So, she came and sat down for a moment and we watched together. When it went to commercial, Barbie turned and looked at me. She said, "Why don't you talk like that?" "Like what?" I said. She paused, "Like Fresh Prince", she said. Silence. Time out! We are both sitting here in the same house, being raised by the same people, attending the same school in the same redneck town. Why would I talk any different? In retrospect, I'm not sure if she thought that I should've been making a conscious effort to sound that way or if she believed that it should've been natural for me because of my genetics. I suppose I should ask her. But at the time I was so perplexed all I could say was "I don't know." Which was true, I didn't know. However, I didn't expect it to be any different than the way things were. I learned to speak English from Dr. Suess, that's all I knew. That's still all I know. I was somewhat shocked that she pointed this out to me. She was the only person I can remember who ever had the balls to say anything like that to me. In the end, it actually was to my benefit.
White people are funny. They tend to keep things inside (like any good Christian should). Being half-White I understand that silence is a virtue. I, the only Brown person in my city, could walk into a room perhaps with Princess Toadstool and no one would say anything at all yet people looked incredibly confused. Caucasians tend to ignore the elephant in the room if it saves them any embarrassment. I know this better than anyone; I do this all the time. That's why I blog, it's the only way I know how to vent. Black people, to the contrary, generally don’t give a shit what people think so if they don’t understand something they’ll ask the question. Whether posing the question makes them look ignorant or not seems to be of no interest to them. My family was no exception to this White passive aggression. My White family rarely made reference to the fact that I looked any different than anyone else. And to me, all I saw around me were White people, so I, in a sense, felt White as well. Things felt familiar and perfectly ordinary to me. And the fact that my family was oblivious (or pretended to be) only helped perpetuate my being oblivious. So when Barbie, all of a sudden, starting pointing what I'm sure everyone else was talking about behind my back it was an awakening for me. Even though I felt confused and exposed by some of the questions she asked, she was actually talking about something that most people were just too scared to actually bring up.
Barbie meant no harm. She was only speaking her mind. She really prepared me for some of the judgments and questions I would later receive later in life; especially from Black people. Barbie simply just saw what I see now when I look back at our family photo. I look back at that picture and think "What's that Negro doing with all of these Caucasians? Is he the family slave?" When I look back and think about how bold and unfiltered my White sister was. All I can say is..... That's so Black of her!
Barbie is Black.
Crack is whack.
I love you Sister!