Blackface = Your Face

In January 2008, I was sitting in my cubicle at Emory Healthcare. My cubicle was located in a room with other adjacent cubicles, and I was working on a much needed project for the Marcus Autism Center. One of my co-workers came into my cubicle to give me some statistics when we overheard a conversation. The conversation that we overheard included the term “Tar baby,” and that was the first time I ever heard of the term. The two Caucasian women who were having the baby were coincidently talking about children, and the term was used to describe one of the children. The co-worker who came into my cubicle was also Caucasian, and I guess she could look at the disappointment in my face because she stated, “I’m so sorry. Some people are just so ignorant. I’m going to say something to them.” I grabbed her arm and instructed her not to. Although I wanted to scream, curse those women out, and slap them to death, I didn’t. I realized my job was vital, and I wasn’t going to lose it over them. Besides, when I offered the two ladies coffee the next day, I made sure to put something extra in it. Racially-charged terms such as “Tar baby” piss me the fuck off! I don’t condone the speech from anyone, and I don’t take the matter lightly. Had those women been in a different location, my reaction would have been very different; however, I had financial responsibilities to take of, and I didn’t want to affect it.

That was the first time I had ever heard “Tar baby” verbalized, but I’ve heard “Coon,” “Mammy,” “Niggers,” and others before. I’ve heard of the notion that Black people grow tails at night, Black people heal faster than other races, and other idiotic ideologies. Although I’ve heard them before, I wasn’t too shocked to hear it because they were from the mouths of Southern Whites. We’re all familiar with the history of the South, and these words were once publicly used to describe Blacks (they’re still used, just behind closed doors or secluded cubicles). To a certain extent, I can take that because it’s expected. Looking at the past and present condition of America, I can expect a White person to hold those views about Blacks.

What I don’t expect and won’t ever accept is a Black person using those terms.

Recently, I had an encounter with a Black woman who referred to other Blacks with these terms. To say I was pissed was an understatement. Here it was, a Black woman who has been called a nigger by a White person was now displacing that same ignorance upon people who looked her. She said it out of anger, and although I’m not in a place to say whether or not her emotions were valid, I am in a place to say she was out of order for calling other Black people these terms. I asked Joseph what did he think of people who called Blacks racially-insensitive terms, and he said, “I think they’re ignorant. They have no reasonable thought process.” When I told him a Black person said these things, he put his drink down and said, “What?” The expression on his face was in shock, and he was in disbelief that a Black person was using such an archaic, imbecilic term. He then stated I shouldn’t have anything else to do with this person because her mentality was deranged. We proceeded to have a conversation about that subject in which he also stated, “You would never hear another Italian call another Italian a Wap just to get a point across. You can disrespect someone without lowering your personal respect.” After having that conversation with Joseph, I can honestly say all respect for this woman has become nil from my part, and anyone else who uses these terms will also receive no respect from me, including Black people. It doesn’t matter how “far” we’ve come, the fact that we can marry interracially, commune in any environment that we want, or the fact that we have a biracial president in office, it wasn’t too long ago that someone who looked like you could be physically attacked just for looking like the same people you’re calling niggers, coons, mammies, or whatever else.

Maybe I’m different. Maybe I understand that just because the man I’m with is White doesn’t erase the fact that I’m Black. It doesn’t erase my history, and it doesn’t place me on a pedestal above others so much that I can look down upon them and refer to them in such harsh ways.

Then again, maybe I’m not so different. I asked this question on one of my friend’s Facebook wall, and this is what the conversation looked liked:

There were more comments expressed to me via email that were similar to the ones expressed in the conversation above. I guess in 2011, there is no need for Blackface makeovers; for, you could just go to the real thing…smdh.

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19 thoughts on “Blackface = Your Face

  1. People disappoint me… in this antiquated thought process…

    I was talking to a guy who wants to date me…he says “I hope you’re not offended by the word nigger”. I proceed to tell him I am offended by it and he should be too…convo progresses into interacial dating and the next thing he says after I told him my ex was white was “I know he called you a Nigger in arguements” I was like “Please Don’t be so ignorant”. He thinks it’s ok for him to say it and not someone else…if you don’t like when white people say it stop using it so freely! Needless to say his closed mindedness got him cut from the team!

  2. Thank you for this topic of your blog. Whenever we allow ourselves to use derogatory language that other people use to describe us, we have bought into the racism that the language represents. I call it “internalized racism.”

  3. I liked this a lot.

    I don’t like the rap music that uses those words and I’m not even black! I don’t want my kids exposed to that mentality. On the one hand, I can PERHAPS see a psychological argument for turning a once derogatory term into a “badge of honour” in this case, I don’t get it.

    I was once on a local train and a couple of Black Americans were on the train calling each other the “N” word and I was about to reprimand them for it when I realised they may not take to kindly to being told off by a white woman! Sometimes I forget, you see.

  4. I’ve heard the word mammy used frequently online, but not so much coon. I guess I never really am offended by the first word, but someone using coon might surprise me. The word just sounds offensive.

  5. Twice I have been at work when someone said something racist and I also thought about loosing my temper verses loosing my job. The first place I left the job later anyway. The second place had a layoff and I was let go anyway. I’ve told myself that I need to learn how to confront people respectfully so that I can live with myself AND not get fired. I’m not saying it’s easy to do. I don’t even have successful experience confronting hatred with respect. But it’s a skill I hope to learn.

  6. Maybe we need to know the HR polices about what level of disrespect will be tolerated by the company before we even take the job, and what protections there are for whistle blowers, and get it in writing.

  7. I guess some people find bliss in ignorance and expect others to feel the same way.

    If I heard something like that at work, no matter what color they were, I would lose all respect for them. Same thing if it happened in my house.

  8. i’ve never heard the term mammie or coon… i don’t even know what it means. i have heard the term “tar baby” and it truly disappoints and disgusts me. it is horrible that someone thinks that they can talk about their own race in this hurtful way just because they are dating outside of their race. it doesn’t mean that you are no longer your own race. ignorance is a sad way to live.

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