Seeing Colors

I was out on a walk with a friend in a tony part of town when we happened upon a store of note. The first thing I noticed was how diverse the store attendants were or put in a less delicate manner - I noticed that the store attendants were Black. This was immediately noticeable to me because (1) I am Brown and (2) I am very aware that this tony part of town has few, if any, Black inhabitants, much less storekeepers.

After leaving the store, I remarked to my White friend that the store attendants were a surprise in that part of town.  My White friend remarked, "I didn't notice" in a tone that I often hear when people say "I don't see color."

At that point, I seriously considered knocking her upside her head, but instead I settled for the increasing disappointment I feel with many White friends. I am more and more aware that I can't have an honest conversation with them about a topic that is not only important to me, but also one I live every day: race.

I was having difficulty articulating my dissatisfaction and unease with this "I don't see color" sentiment, and then I hit on this quote (emphasis mine):

"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;' who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a 'more convenient season.'

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

You're Not Like Them

I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "But you're not like Mexican Mexican" meaning that my accent free English, my education, and my attire somehow make me better than the speaker's stereotype of a Mexican: Spanish-speaking, uneducated and dirty. The comment always bothers me and I struggle with how to respond.  So it was interesting to hear a Nigerian woman talk of a similar experience on Fresh Air.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Americanah, explained to Terry Gross:

"And I think that when people say to me you're different, and you're not angry, in some ways it's that I also feel that I'm being made complicit in something that I don't want to be complicit in because in some ways they're saying you're one of the good ones.

And I think to say that is to somehow ignore, you know, the reality of American history. And so for example people will say oh, you're so easy to get along with, and then they'll tell me a story about some African-American woman they knew who just wasn't like me and - you know, which I find quite absurd"

The thing is I am Mexican Mexican.  But Mexicans, neh Hispanics, are not a homogenous group.  Isn't that abundantly clear by now?




Coconut. That's what it used to be called: brown on the outside and white on the inside. It was a derogatory label in grade school. But according to 23andme, I'm exactly that. I have brown skin but my DNA says I'm Caucasian. More specifically I am predominantly southern European and 19.5% Native American (from North America, not South America). I have to admit I was a bit surprised. I wonder how this type of information will affect future self-identification and even college applications. Will we put race to the side and instead identify around a socioeconomic status? 1% or 99%?

Maybe I'll just stick with tropical fruits.

It's Racial

Homophily might seem benign, but what may start out as preference can easily become segregation. Famous economist, Thomas Schelling's work in "Models of Segregation" (1969) showed the impact of preference.

"In this paper he showed that a small preference for one's neighbors to be of the same color could lead to total segregation. He used coins on graph paper to demonstrate his theory by placing pennies and nickels in different patterns on the "board" and then moving them one by one if they were in an "unhappy" situation. The positive feedback cycle of segregation's causing increased prejudice, and prejudice's increasing preference for separated living, can be found in most human populations. Variations are found in what are regarded as meaningful differences – gender, age, race, ethnicity, language, sexual preference, religion, etc. Once a cycle of separation-prejudice-discrimination-separation has begun, it has a self-sustaining momentum.

He further postulates in his 1978 book Micromotives and Macrobehaviors that a preference for segregation of two groups and a preference to congregate with others of your demographic are indistinguishable as motives which could explain the phenomenon of voluntary separation of two distinct groups."