5

Race

Mulatto Math

I never thought in a million years I’d be writing a blog post about race – for an expat community.

I mean, as a British white women, is it really my place?

But hang on a minute….. I have lived in 11 countries all over the world, I have my own race related stories, good ones, bad ones and very ugly ones. The thing is, as a white woman, in a serious conversation about race, at some point I can’t possibly relate – even though I have been discriminated against on a number of occasions in my life – I don’t know what it’s like to be persecuted day in day out because of the way I look.  At some point I can’t possibly understand – I don’t know what it’s like to be constantly judged by the way I look; the colour of my skin, the shape of my face, the texture of my hair.

At some point I just have to listen. And it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable because it is the colour of my skin, the shape of my face and the texture of my hair that puts me, unwillingly, on the side of the problem.

So why on earth would I dare share my musings about this topic?

Last night I attended a FB live of a brand new acquaintance Monique DeBose. Monique has the most amazing improv skills and is an award winning singer / song writer and playwright. But more than that she exudes life and passion. I love her energy. I love her voice (not just her singing voice) and I love her hair! So when I saw that Monique had created a one woman show about race called:

Mulatto Math : Summing Up The Race Equation In America

“Mulatto Math Summing Up the Race Equation in America is an edgy one woman show.  Through original music and stories of her family’s history, this mixed race woman (from an African American father from the segregated south and Irish American mother from upstate New York) shares her most precious, vulnerable stories of her exploration of family, race and identity.”

I was hooked.

I have been following the build up on social media ever since the promotions began, even donating a small amount to Monique’s campaign to raise money to produce the show. Leading up to the opening night Monique has held extremely thought provoking FB live interviews with some really amazing women. I am blown away by the authenticity of Monique’s approach to this extremely complex yet essential conversation.

In last night’s FB live Monique had 3 guests (one of whom is also called Monique so from now on, to avoid confusion, I will refer to the host as Ms. DeBose) the guests included;

Monique, a black woman.  

Claudine, a mixed race woman. 

And Kendra, a white woman. 

Ms. DeBose asked two questions of all three women:

What race do you identify with? 

What does race mean to you?

First of all, wuuuuut? The enormity yet simplicity of these two questions…..  not only did their answers fascinate me but my own thoughts and experiences bombarded my brain with total confusion.

Sometimes their answers surprised me: Monique said, “I do not identify as African American. Actually, I can’t stand the word African American….. this idea of titles; negros and then coloureds, then African Americans, then blacks, stop! Stop with that! I am a human being….”

Sometimes their answers inspired me: Claudine said “…. if they ask me, ‘where are you from?’ or ‘what are you?’ I have been kind of stretched in ways that I never expected myself to be stretched by having to explain, ‘yeah, my mom is white and my dad is black’ and even though that may be something that is foreign to them, the more I roll it off my tongue and the more I talk about it, it becomes so much less big…. my ability to relate to all these different people….. I believe that part of me being inside of this skin is so that I can touch people and reach people who maybe normally wouldn’t have met someone like me….. so I look at it as a gift, less of a burden….”

After the interview I couldn’t stop thinking about this conversation, trying to make sense of my own thoughts. My mind was racing (pun intended) reflecting on my experiences having lived around the world for the past 30 years.

It hit me, perhaps for the first time, that in the expat community rarely is race a topic of conversation. We are always talking about culture and belonging, but race….? Is it that we don’t see race in our expat bubble? Or given the ongoing dilemma of what “expat” means – which in every conversation I have ever had or observed on this debate, race does show up – is it that expats, being predominantly white for so long, avoid the conversation about race altogether?

I have certainly seen my fair share of racism on all levels around the world, more so in the U.S. than anywhere else. But again being a British white woman makes it a little awkward to be a part of the race conversation. When Ms. DeBose asked Kendra, “As a white woman do you feel that the conversation isn’t relevant to you?” Kendra responded, “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t a little anxious …… like I’m gonna do it wrong, I’m gonna misspeak or misstep and show my….. ineptitude here. There is definitely a part of me that wants to hold back and see what’s invited.

So it’s not just expats.

In all honesty, I would usually feel the same way and choose not speak about race unless I was sure the person I was talking with was open to a respectful conversation seeking deeper understanding. But…. I also fundamentally believe that is our collective and individual duty to discuss and resolve the challenges that face all of humanity. And race is a human challenge that only understanding through conversation can resolve. And we can only understand if we listen with compassion to other people’s stories.

So, I lay awake last night with my head full of thoughts and emotions and memories and I asked myself these two questions.

What race do you identify with?

Strangely it felt like a trick question. I was stumped. I began a lengthy discussion with myself…

I’m white? (yes, that was posed as a question!)

I am most definitely white. (there is no other option)

But is white a race or just a colour?

Should I answer caucasian then? (ah there is another option)

What does that mean exactly?

How many races are there anyway? And what are they?

I can’t believe I don’t know the answer to these questions.

I can’t believe I’ve never seriously considered these specific questions.

Actually, It makes sense not to give any thought to such things, on a form if there is a question “what is your ethnicity” I always respond “Other” or “prefer not to say.” because, really, why does it matter?

Why does it matter?

I have been married to an Italian man for 24 years, are we considered a mix marriage? I never thought so. Even though, when we announced our engagement an older Italian friend of mine, who owned the barber shop next to where I worked, called me into his shop early in the morning and gestured for me to sit down.

“I need to talk to you.” He said in his thick Italian accent.

It sounded serious so I immediately jumped up into his barber’s chair.
“What’s up Michelle?” I asked with heightened curiosity.

“Well, I want to talk to you about your marriage.”

“My marriage?” I asked.

“Yes, you are English and you are going to marry an Italian.” He began

I had no idea where he was going with this.

“Now, just because you are both white, doesn’t mean you are the same. When you wake up in the morning you will want tea and when he wakes up he will want coffee.”

And that was it.

He moved on to a totally unrelated story of how he left Italy to set up his barber shop in Caracas, Venezuela with his best friend. And how even though he still owns and works at the barber shop with the same guy, they aren’t friends anymore and barely even speak.

A story I had heard a dozen times.

I was only 24 years old at the time and honestly had no idea what he was talking about. But he was an older man and clearly wanted to pass this (rather cryptic) message on to me before I exchanged vows.

But as the years went on I began to see the wisdom in his message.

I got it. We were different. So very different!

But I never considered that difference to be race.

I always put it down to culture.

Culture runs deep, but race, race is such a superficial concept.

It seems I couldn’t confidently answer the question “What race do you identify with?” until I was clear as to what race actually is. So, still wide awake at 2am I moved on to the second question……

 

What does race mean to you?

Here we go, another lengthy discussion about to commence….

Actually no, the answer to this one was easy – nothing.

Race means nothing to me. 

The fact that racISM exists is what causes anxiety and the feeling of ineptitude, not race itself.

If I’m honest, I don’t even look for race. When I meet people, no matter the colour of their skin, the shape of their face or the texture of their hair, I am curious. Who are you? What are you experiences? What do you love? What are your challenges? What makes you cry? What do you believe?

I admit I ask people, “Where are you from?” all the time. And, for the life of me, I can’t understand why that is offensive – and it is to so many. When I ask, “Where are you from?” I am really asking, “Who are you and how can we connect?”

I’ve lived all over the world, the most obvious way for me to connect with people is by sharing our experiences of the world. I love hearing people’s stories, that’s who I am.

Obviously I am asked, “Where are you from?” all the time too, ironically this happens almost on a daily basis in my own country (my accent is very confusing!) and I smile every time because it means I have an opening to connect with this person, sharing stories of past travels and future dreams. I learn something new and interesting about a fellow human being. Every single one of the 7.6 billion of us is different and has something to share and something to contribute… I LOVE THAT!

I was still thinking by 4am… My last thoughts being about the actual definition of race (thanks google!!)

“each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics” 

and also

“a situation in which individuals or groups compete to be first to achieve a particular objective” 

Is this relevant? Is race just a pathetic attempt for groups of people to compete with each other?

When I woke up in the morning the first thing I did was google ‘how many races are there’ and found that there are either 3, 4, 5 or even 6 depending on who you believe…. Who knew?

I wish I had more space here to tell my stories of how I have seen the ugly side of race on my travels. And how my children, after being born and raised over seas – in many countries with many cultures – have absolutely no interest in putting people into a lane. For now I have come to the conclusion that basically race is nothing more than human conditioning. We have been conditioned to believe that just because my appearance is different than yours, we are in a different lane. Unfortunately, humanity has taken gross advantage of this distinction and devastatingly many, many people in our world are wrongly made to feel inferior to others.

Let’s just stop that, shall we?

And let’s keep talking, all of us, until we get it…..  that there is only one race and we are all in it together. 

Over to you, what is your takeaway or reaction to this conversation?

 

 

 

 

Author: Angela

Angela was born and raised in Liverpool, England and began her expat journey at the age of 17. She has lived in a total of 11 different countries in just under 30 years.

UK | Germany | USA | S. Korea | Venezuela | Taiwan | India | Malaysia | Vietnam | Malaysia | Tahiti | Malaysia | Jordan | UK

On her travels Angela came across her passion and purpose in education, particularly in understanding how we learn. She has an insatiable appetite for helping people of all ages unlock their unique potential. This passion led her to attain a number of diplomas and certificates in various nuero-developmental methods and healing techniques and ultimately in creating her passion project; Katie’s Readers – a community of volunteers whose aim is to “Scatter the love of learning around the world.” She is also a certified life coach and works primarily with {expatriate} mothers, youth and clients who work directly with children.

Angela recently returned to Liverpool, coming full circle to finally lay down roots while continuing to follow her own passions and inspiring others to do the same!

Comments 5

  1. I love the questions you ask yourself in the wee hours of the morning 🙂 And, how they’ve become questions bumbling around in my own mind. Like you, I don’t think about race much at all, but love to ask people where they’re from. Not to put anyone in a box, but because I want to hear their stories too. Because story telling is what brings us closer together.

    Thank you for writing this beautiful post.

  2. Thank you for your comment Loralee. I am so curious as to how other Triangles feel, i’m Sure many of us lead with “where are you from” simple out of habit due to the life we lead. I’d love to hear from someone who finds it offensive or at least irritating.

    PS The questions that go through my mind at night always keep me awake 😔 where do you live? Maybe I should text you at 3am for discussions!!!! 😘

  3. Holy wow Woman.. you so truly amaze me over and over again! I was struck by the question, what race do you identify with… surprisingly … Not sure I feel like I’m one race … if there is race at all… and culture, I’m a product of that… but at the same time, sometimes, I just don’t feel Canadian… and other times, I feel like I identify with might be even past lives … or something we don’t even know.. I mean.. who knows…

    What a great article. I wish you would be a speaker… I think it’s time 🙂 xxxooo I want more people to experience you. xxxoxoxxo

  4. Elizabeth, THANK YOU! Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. And thank you for your kind words!
    I’m Becoming…… because I get to meet people like you. <3

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