White out. That’s what I call the town I live in sometimes. It does not get any whiter than this and I am not talking about snow. North Dakota is one of the most homogenous states in the U.S. There are very few minorities. When I moved to the town, the statistics gave the black population as 48. I joking called my self Number 49. When you live among people that have not had a lot of exposure to black people, you start to notice things you normally would not notice in a bigger city. The most evident is that now I know for sure that although not all white people are racist, about 70% of them are prejudiced – most of the time a result of ignorance, and sometimes by choice.
White people (sorry about generalizing) will never knowingly expose their prejudices. It is always subtle – a look, a comment, an action. Back in college a classmate of mine, a white male, whom I had spent a few times with as a study buddy finally got the courage to ask me why black men liked white women. He had genuine concern in his voice, like his race was loosing to lesser men. After getting over the shock of the fact that he actually trusted me enough now to throw my pencil at him, I said, “Well, I think it is just that back in the day it was taboo. Now, it is not and it is more out in the open.” I did not get into more details because I had my own beliefs about the white woman-black man thing. Another classmate groused about affirmative action and how he could not get into the school he wanted because he was not white, (boo-f*&^ing hoo) I thought to myself as I smiled in sympathy.
You see, a white person has to trust you completely to ask you the tough questions. That’s why I encourage them to ask if they are not sure.
“Is it black or African-American. I always think the word black is so negative,” one woman said to me once.
“Actually black is pretty appropriate as most times the individual might not really be African-American. They may be another nationality. So, if you don’t know, say black, there is nothing negative about being black.”
Another lady asked me at work, “Why did you change the cafeteria menu from Oriental Chicken Salad to Asian Chicken Salad?”
“Because, nothing is oriental any more, except carpets -and even those are objecting and choosing to call themselves Persian Rugs,” I replied.
Once, my co-worker called her niece who was of mixed blood, ‘mulatto’. I did a double take and gave her a lecture on what everyone was in the 21st Century. North Dakota is pretty isolated, I tell you. Another co-worker invited me to her home and her mother-in-law casually said, “There is nothing on TV except nigger shows.” She meant black comedy.
It is not just what they say; it is how they treat you too. Once I went to a bar with friends and after a few drinks, I felt brave enough to dance to the many country and rock songs playing. A guy approached me as I danced and started to dance with me. Once a while he would turn me around so my back was to him. I was not worried until he said, “that all you got?” That was when I realized he expected me to do the booty-hop. You know, Beyonce’s moves….
That is not the only time my black booty got more attention than I was prepared to give it. Another lady approached me at work and asked if I could give her lessons on how to do the ‘booty dance’. I was thinking, what? is it because I am black? But I said, “Ah, sorry, I can’t remember the last time I danced.”
My former boss who was probably one of the most enlightened ones asked me what a ‘bee-donk, bee-donk’ was. I sh*t you not. I laughed so hard I almost pissed myself. To mess with him, I said it meant junk in the trunk. He took that literally. I later had to explain that the correct pronunciation was b’dunk-b’dunk and junk in the trunk meant a nice rounded plump and full ass like mine (I’m joking here fellas).
Booty aside, let’s talk hair. That one really gets on my nerves. My ex who was white came from a family of wrestlers. All the boys were two to four time state champs. One brother (whom I later found out was not in favor of me dating his brother) asked me why one guy he wrestled grew his hair in an Afro. He said the guy’s hair gave him bruises all over his hands. I never said a word out of shock.
When I got my hair in braids, everyone and their third cousin would come up and touch my hair. A few would ask permission, others just took it upon themselves to figure how they could be so tiny. For the first week, I allowed it. After that, I practiced a killer frown that never failed to scare them away.
All in all my experience has really been eye-opening and I try really hard not to get irritated at ignorance. Besides, back home in naija we are quite guilty of the same thing – misconceptions of the white race and all that jazz.