One of the things I'm most grateful for is my heritage; I'm half Colombian and half Guyanese. Living in the U.S., I grew up dancing to cumbia, soca AND hip hop, eating ajiaco, curry AND pot roast, celebrating Noche Buena, Diwali AND Thanksgiving. My extended family is also very diverse; I've been surrounded by various languages, races, cultures and traditions, enough to know that eloquence and intelligence are color blind. I've also never felt my skin color or heritage to be a barrier to the kinds of relationships I form. Really, I just tend to mesh with people who are good hearted, outgoing and personable. Embracing diversity has always been important to me, but with this passion comes a shocking awareness that our society is still very behind in the way different cultures are viewed.
Ignorance is an epidemic, and here are 4 racist remarks I've personally experienced....
1. "I forget you're not white.": This one's my favorite. A phrase once told to me innocently by a white friend. I remember this moment vividly, and the sad part is that I understood what she meant by it. The way I spoke, the way I dressed, and the way I acted was similar to hers, and not of the stereotypes she had of other cultures or races. Being well-spoken apparently made me seem "white." (P.S. - My skin is a shade of brown - very blatantly not creamy eggshell.)
2. "Learn English.": I've heard this one far too many times as angry pedestrians and passengers mutter or yell this to the foreign drivers that make up over 90% of our taxi system here in NYC. Every time I've heard a comment of this nature, out of shock, I become a mute, stunned by it's awkward ignorance. So many other countries in this world cater to the english-speaking population, and having traveled to multiple countries around the world, never have I been told to learn their language. Truly, if you're monolingual and offended by a heavy accent here in the states, you should be commending these people for their ability to communicate with twice as many people as you can. Plus, who are you to tell them to learn English?! You can barely speak it properly yourself.
3. "You're too ethnic for him." Before I met my amazing ethnic boyfriend, I was making rounds in the dating scene. I've really never had a type- a great person is great, whether he's black, white, yellow or purple. During a dinner with a close group of people who shall not be named, trying to find Lucia a boyfriend was a fun topic for all of us. They'd point out potentials... I'd say "yay" or "nay." As we were going down a list of bachelors, I got smacked with the "you're too ethnic for him," comment. I can't begin to describe how uncomfortable and shocking that was. I had never been made to feel like such an outsider based on how ethnic my appearance was. Since when do couples have to look like brother and sister?
4. Assuming someone's intelligence based on their race. This may not be a remark, but it's effect is something I've witnessed happen to my family members constantly. My parents carry accents having both grown up in South American countries. At the age of 18, they were awarded scholarships to study medicine in USSR. Not only did they have to learn Russian first in order to study medicine, they had to raise a child in between 20 hour workdays with meager money. They've worked harder in the toughest of circumstances, and have gone through situations where most people I know would have given up. Years later they made their way to the United States to raise our family. Intelligent doesn't begin to describe my mother and father, but because they have accents in our country, they're constantly being spoken to like presumed illiterates. Of course this doesn't happen everywhere we go, but getting awkward glances at car dealerships, or noticing someone's demeaning tone when speaking to them is enough to feel the impact of this degradation.