Today I read Miriam Zoila Pérez’s essay, “When Sexual Autonomy Isn’t Enough: Sexual Violence Against Immigrant Women in the United States” for day eleven of the Blogging “Yes” project. You may know Miriam from Feministing, or from her own blog, Radical Doula. She’s one of my favorite bloggers out there, and in this essay she sheds light on an important issue, namely sexual violence faced by immigrant women. I also want to recommend a related blog post on Feministe written by brownfemipower, Confronting Citizenship in Sexual Assault.
I would by no stretch of the imagination consider myself a racist, but like anyone I have internal prejudices, whether a product of socialization, education, experience, or whatever else. When I was a teenager, I would say that “no! I would never have a racist thought!” and then feel terribly guilty when I had one. I do from time to time have such a thought now, and feel guilty, but I’m trying to figure out more productive ways to address and confront my own racist thoughts so that I can be more effective at fighting against racism externally, whether in the gay community or elsewhere.
I’d like to note, incidentally, that any racism on my part has nothing at all to do with my parents. They raised me to be colorblind, and to respect everyone. As I got older, I learned to go beyond colorblindness, and to embrace and respect and learn from everyone’s backgrounds, whether race, nationality, ethnicity, hometown, etc etc. I’m sure I got some racist messages from school and the media, but for the most part it’s a couple of unfortunate experiences that I tried hard to block out, and wonder now if I should in some way confront instead.
When I was a kid, I went to a school in a neighborhood where I was in the minority, and I was a perfectly happy camper. Most of my friends were black or Latina, and I didn’t really understand race in elementary school. I told my mom that one of my friends was black, and the other was “brown,” because I was just analyzing how their skin tone physically looked to me. My best friend in the neighborhood was also black. Unfortunately, after that experience, I went to two schools that were probably 97% white. One was a magnet school, and the other was a charter high school for academically gifted kids.
One of the negative experiences I had was when I was eleven, and a fourteen-year-old boy upstairs who was black became my friend and then wanted to be my girlfriend. I should point out that I said yes, so he wasn’t doing anything wrong, really. Nothing was his fault, personally. I just didn’t know how to say “no.” So we kissed a couple of times, and I felt uncomfortable, and then when we were with another friend of his (that friend was white, incidentally), he touched my breast while the other friend smirked and the guy’s six-year-old brother looked rather embarrassed. After that, I was extremely freaked out, and started having nightmares about rape. Again, no fault of that individual whatsoever, I just didn’t know what I was doing and unfortunately it triggered a negative association. I shoved the memory down into the recesses of my brain, but as a teenager I ended up having a generalized fear of black men.
The second incident involved a coworker, also a black man, who flirted a lot, kept trying to get rides with me, would occasionally attempt a grope, and also happened to be a cocaine dealer. Now he did do something wrong. He shouldn’t have been trying to touch me. But that said, I do think it fed into my stereotype. I have a bad habit, when I pass someone who has a certain look – usually but not always black or Latino, wearing certain clothes, smirking in a certain way – to be frightened. I smile, but I walk a little more quickly. I should note that I’ve had several great black male friends since that time, and one adult black male role model when I was an undergrad, and so it’s not so much that I’m afraid of black men. It’s just a certain “type” that gives me the heebie-jeebies, and I want to try to get that out of my head.
So I’m wondering – any suggestions? Anyone else been able to successfully combat this sort of internal racism, or do any people of color have any thoughts? I’m starting to write and talk more about how lesbians of color have been marginalized in the gay community, but I feel that it’s unfair to accuse others of racism when I haven’t dealt with this problem in my own head.
Also, on a completely unrelated note, another slam poem, this one much more safe for work, and more on the humorous side.