Sunday, July 27, 2008

To Put Me In A Box

"Where'd the name ______ come from?" he asked me. I stood in the back yard of my friend's house with another friend and this guy we had just met. He was worth talking too because he wasn't nearly as obnoxious as some of the other idiots standing around with their beers and cigarettes in hand. I thought he was worth talking too.

I didn't understand his question and neither did my friend next to me. It was my first name, not a nickname. "What do you mean?"

"Well, ______ isn't really a black name or a Puerto Rican name," he said.

"Yes it is. It's not nonblack or Puerto Rican,"

"I've known a lot of _______s and they were all white girls, mostly Irish. It's kind of an Irish name."

"Well if you think about it a lot of black people are Christian and most Puerto Rican's are Catholic and my name is derived from the name Christ." I'm sure my friend standing next to me knew what I was getting at. She was short, Mexican and more easy-going than I was. She gave him a funny look wondering where he was coming up with this shit. She looked more amused than me anyhow.

"It's still more of a white girl name," he said.

"Not really."

"I'm gonna go inside and use the bathroom," my friend said.

"I'll come with you. I have to go too." I said. He probably thought it was one of those weird things girls did where they had to go to the bathroom in groups or something. It wasn't. I did have to go and I'd been holding it for a while.

When we stepped in the back door she laughed and said, "What the hell was that?"

"I don't know, that was so weird. I've never had someone tell me I had a white girl name before."

It was a while later that he came back up to us as we stood in the light beaming outside the garage. He bent down a bit and looked at me. What the hell was he doing now?

"You know how I can tell you're not all black? Cause you don't have black people gums."

Really? Did he really just say that to me? My friend burst out laughing. "What?! What are you talking about?" I asked. I didn't even want to smile because I knew he'd be checking out my mouth which was more than awkward.

"Black people have darker gums and you don't, that's how I can tell you're not all black."

I really had to stop here and wonder to myself what his obsession was with my background and why he felt the need to distinguish me so much. Who cares? No one else cared what I was. No one else was coming up to me and making ignorant remarks about my features and my race which he wouldn't know much about anyway because he was neither black nor Puerto Rican. 

"I think it really goes more on features," my friend said, "I've never heard anyone use gums as a reason before."

Now he was starting to bug me. What really topped it off was what he had the nerve to say to me about a minute later.

"And you talk like a white girl."

"Now I can't even talk to you," I said. He smiled and my friend laughed. I turned to her. "See he thinks I'm joking, but I'm not." I spotted my boyfriend across the lawn. "I'm gonna go over there," I said pointing with both hands, and I stepped off the sidewalk into the grass. I walked over and sat next to my boyfriend.

"I was just told I talk like a white girl."

"What! By who?"

"That guy. Their new roommate," I said referring to a group of his buddies who shared an apartment half a mile away. One of those buddies stepped over right at that moment.

"You're new roommate's an ass," I said to him.

"What happened?"

"He just told me I talk like a white girl."

He looked mildly appalled for a moment then said, "Does talking like a white person mean knowing how to speak the English language?"

"Apparently," I said and then recounted everything that had been said from the beginning.

"Dude, what you have to know about him is that he's so ignorant. Sooo ignorant. You'd think being half asian and half Jewish would teach him something but he says shit all the time."

I'd been told I "talk white" before and I just didn't understand it. There was nothing wrong with knowing how to speak proper English. There was nothing "white" about it either and I hated when people made it sound as if being intelligent was something inherently nonblack or nonPuerto Rican. I hated it even more when people made it sound as if intelligence was something reserved for white people alone.

My friend came up to me later and told me he said he only meant that we don't have accents. "We don't have to," I said referring to us both being Latina because that was the common expectation. "Black people don't have accents," I said. That was a stereotype too. Speech and accents were not racially determined. People with accents had them because English wasn't their first language and they never quite picked up on the American accent, or because they were from somewhere else where the accent was different. In Britain I would be the one with the accent. There were plenty of white people with accents because they came from other places, even other places in America, and there were plenty of ethnic people who didn't. 

My point still stood that he was trying really hard to categorize me and using ignorant methods and concepts to do so. I guess it just confuses people when they can't put me in a box, when they can't peg me down as one thing or another. For some reason this guy despite his own mixed heritage felt some overwhelming need to define me and see exactly where those definitions didn't fit so he could find new ones to put in their place. Yet he seemed to have no consideration for how rude or offensive he was to me. And I have no patience for people who want to say and believe the crap they come up with.


Kismet said...

"Black people have darker gums and you don't, that's how I can tell you're not all black."

wOw. i haven't heard that one since...what?....the 19th century....


Finding a Voice said...

Wow. You are better than me. I would not have been that patient with his ignorance. And the pointing with 2 fingers, I could so see kismet doing that - thought it was her til I got to the end but then again she is not that patient either. I know I shouldn't be but I am shocked that people can still be that ignorant and rude. No comments about your hair?

K.Iris said...

Nope, nothing about my hair.

cripchick said...

dark gums??? REALLY?