IF *I'M* NOT WHITE ENOUGH?! - Part 2: A French Canadian In Minnesota vs. Colorado
Updated: Feb 17
If you're just joining us, I highly recommend that you read these first:
Also. I rarely give blatant trigger warnings, but I will today. We're about to sling some mud and get ugly here. Racial mud. Ugly slurs. Hateful sentiments that were commonplace in my childhood, and that are still mucking about to this day.
I don't believe in keeping silent about these things. That's like taking down memorials of Nazi concentration camps and making a mere mention in a watered-down history book. It's important that we don't forget how these things actually were--and more importantly, the subtle things that led to their creation.
It's easy to see the obvious stuff and brush it off as, "Oh, that's not me! I'm not in the KKK." But all these things run insidious underground tentacles beneath the conspicuous examples.
As a History Major, I believe that, if we don't learn from history, if we talk in tea-time-appropriate code, if we censor the full impact of the memories of those who lived it, we're doomed to repeat it more than we already are.
Gee...isn't that a huge reason why we're in this mess? Censored, slanted "history?"
Now, if you are someone who has been rubbed so raw by denigrating, racist and/or other abuse that you just can't fucking read it one more time, this post may not be for you. But then, you're not the one I wrote it for, because guaranteed you're not the one who needs to learn how appalling and cunning this crap is.
At least, not in your own area of being denigrated.
If, on the other hand, you are too triggered to read any more but have NOT been personally abused by them, I invite you to examine why you are cushioning yourself from those blows and proceed accordingly.
WARNING 2: Nope, I didn't write this post to siphon away attention from firsthand non-white voices, to say, "Ohhhhh HashtagMeTooAllInThisTogetherPowerFist" or to say, "Yeah-yeah, the world is mean, we've all had it bad so quit whining."
Quite the opposite.
In short: If I and my pasty-white butt experienced what I went through, then I can't even imagine or truly comprehend what it's like in the full, firsthand blast radiuses of racial prejudice.
But that will never stop me from trying to understand. And it will never stop me from adding my own firsthand perspective to this sea of people saying, "Yup. Houston, this is a problem. Here's one of the less blatant and therefore more easily dismissed examples underneath genocide and boots on necks. But it's still the same shit."
After that eye-opening day when we pored through my yearbooks, something else occurred to me as I considered my experience of moving from Minnesota to Colorado. At my first time attending the Fourth of July celebration in my new home, I stood amidst that large public gathering with an eerie sensation building inside me.
At last, I realized what it was: I was among the tallest people there.
That had never happened to me before.
In Minnesota, I had always considered myself of average height, maybe even kinda short. I am only 5'6". Yet in Colorado, as I looked into that sea of faces, I also experienced another foreign sensation: I was extraordinarily fair.
Light-haired in comparison.
Me. The girl who had spent summer after summer spraying lemon juice on her hair before going out into the sun, and never really understanding why. Oh, how I had bemoaned the fact that, with every passing year, I lost more and more of that coveted blonde I had been born with, and my mother would not let me bleach my hair.
Even the brown of my eyes is light. Until I moved to Colorado, I had never realized that I have rays of gold and green amidst that brown. They're just shy of dark hazel.
I had also never understood why I despised their shape. Why I got frustrated with my 80s pink-and-blue eyeshadow that, no matter how many times I followed the directions of "how to make your eyes look bigger, rounder" I couldn't make a dent in the illusion. To this day, I still reflexively cringe at closeup photos of me next to anyone with large, round eyes.
Until I looked at my yearbooks through that outside perspective, I never--not in a million months or more--would have imagined that my sketchy self-image or the way I was treated as a kid could have had anything to do with race or prejudice.
There had never been a question of my race. It's quite apparent. I don't even tan well. I burn and peel off pale.
But there certainly was the issue of coloring and shapes at play in my hometown--and my lineage has a hefty dose of French Canadian in its mix. Who knows where my brunette hair, my brown, almond-shaped eyes, my mid-height, or my sharper facial features come from? I don't. As a kid, I had no comprehension of why these features were such horrible things to be cursed with. Since I marked "caucasian" on all my paperwork, I didn't have anybody telling me, "Oh, honey, you're just not white enough for them. They're backwards and racist."
I had always assumed I was called ugly because I WAS.
Squinty-eyed, brown-eyed shorty. Or squinty-eyed, brown-eyed, four-eyed shorty with dull, icky, too-dark hair and no boobs. "Are you a booooy? You look like a boy. You act like a boy. Do you wanna kiss girls? Lesbo! You're so gross! Whuff-whuff, Dog! You're so ugly you make me wanna barf!"
All I have to do is look back with objective eyes. Nope. I WAS a cute little kid. Okay, so I was even gawkier than the Cool Kids were in middle school. But in high school, my parents' genes finally made a treaty after the puberty war and settled into a blend of the eye-candy that would win me smiles and applause and heaps of trouble from that moment on.
Didn't matter. The damage was already carved into me, cell-deep.
There's something wrong with the way you look.
As of the last census, according to Wikipedia, my hometown has a demographic that is 96% white, with almost 75% of that Scandinavian, German, and Polish. The only other population that even makes the chart is a catch-all "Native American." The other 2.3% is classified as "from two or more races."
Sheesh, I don't even make the chart. Or maybe I do? Somewhere too far back there to really know without a blood test? I dunno. According to the paper trails, my bloodline is French-via-Canada with a hint of Swedish, and Irish/Scottish/English mutt. As such, I looked different from the majority around me, and evvvverybody knows that Different = Bad. I was darker than the ideal, and we good Christians who grew up in the 70s and 80s watching Spaghetti Westerns and superheroes had been taught very well: Dark = Bad; Light = Good.
I had also committed that most heinous of transgressions.
I played with outcasts.
I don't know if you've ever noticed during those chapters about my adventures in being an elementary school Loser how often I mention the kinds of kids that got it as bad as or worse than I did. Because the biggie wasn't Black vs. White where I grew up. A) We didn't have many Black kids. B) It was broadcast that this prejudice was only still an issue with those "ignorant hicks in the Deep South" and the scary, nasty inner cities where gangs lurked. (I wonder if that made things reeeeeally interesting for anyone Black who did live among us, getting told all the time that this wasn't an issue anymore.)
Nope, where I grew up there were few things officially worse than the redheads, the "r3t@rds," those "dumb Pol@©k$," and the worst of the worst, those "d!rty !nd!@n$." I can still hear it in their snide voices: "Ojibwuuuuuuh..."
I might not have been called any of those things, but my steadfast refusal to ostracize the kids in those categories, much less be cruel to them, got me hurled down alongside them, along with an additional, subtle, unspoken stigma.
It never would have crossed my mind that a slice of what I was doing could have been considered as Traitor to My Own Race. After all, our adults and teachers and nightly news and newspapers and books swore that "All That Race Stuff had been taken care of in the 60s." They said it over and over, oh-so loud-n-proud until we believed it.
My Boomer parents are extraordinarily hacked off at the way they, too, were lied to, since they've always chosen small, rural--predominantly white--places to live.
And yet, in spite of the propaganda, in that rural Minnesota town I was trapped in for the first eighteen years of my life, the most stressful and heated away-games I ever cheered at were not against our rival school in the next town over. They were way up north at a school near a reservation, with a significant indigenous population. (2)
I especially dreaded the football games up there, because the sport itself gave license for the guys to take action on the cruel racial slurs they had voiced the whole way up on the bus--now with full parental and school sanction, and a squad of pretty girls in short skirts to shout them onward to bruises and glory.
But that had nothing to do with race or color, right?
"Naw, those guys up there were just jerks and they sucked at football."
Heh-heh-heh-heh...in truth, that particular team was notorious for whupping our boys into little grease-stains on the grass. We would get off the bus into a morass of seething snarl. The Enemy Team would gather nearby to hover and menace, as is the tradition while on one's home turf. But up north? The adults could spout until they were blue in the face about how well the Civil Rights Movement had solved "all that." Near the reservations, it was so unsolved you could taste it in the air.
To top it off, a lot of these guys were bigger than ours. Stronger. More powerful. They were also potent with their deep-seated anger. So were their cheerleaders. Those girls could out-shout us while yawning. Their formations were inventive, acrobatic, and crisp, as strong and powerful as the boys they urged on. It always torqued me off that they had better dances and pyramids than ours--only one other squad did, the eternal Class A State Cheerleading Champs from further south. Facing off against either of those schools always spurred me to step it up when we got back home. I found both squads infuriatingly glorious.
But our opposition up north was also daunting in a way specific to them, because the kind of dislike and threat that poured from their eyes and auras was only partly about football, and it was nothing like the petty spite my classmates heaped upon me.
This was old. It was deep.
There was legitimate grievance in the beef they had with us, and it demanded to be Listened to. To be Rectified.
But hardly anybody ever fucking did.
Their loathing always saddened me, but I couldn't blame them. We outcasts who are told to shut up and play nice with our abusers can recognize each other by a certain vibration that emanates from our core--and my experience with ostracism and societal abuse had nothing on theirs. It's another reason why I admired them so greatly. Because if they could shine as much as they always did while battling uphill both ways, pursued by the kind of wolves that prowled those far-north forests, then I could manage mine.
I also won't lie about how much fanged, devious joy I took in watching the male half of my tormentors Get Theirs by people they considered inferior.
"Okay, okay, so they usually beat the snot out of us, but that was only 'cause they cheated! And...well...I don't wanna say nothin' but... I couldn't keep my arms around 'em long enough for a proper tackle 'cause...well, those guys stink, man."
That was a standard excuse whenever our team lost to theirs.
A few of our Mean Girl cheerleaders hid their squirming about being out-shouted, out-danced, and out-gunned behind denigration of the other squad's "ugliness." Also SOP.
"But we're not racist. I mean, come on! We have that big Black family in our school, and those kids are super popular. Student council, cheerleading, academics, athletics--" (1)
Athletics. I will refrain from making any ASSumptions about the Black experience in my hometown because I'm not Black and I wasn't remotely close enough to those kids for them to have told me about it. They were popular, remember? And some of them were considerably older. Some were younger. To my child's memory, they were popular for good reason. Smart, good looking, talented. They also didn't let anybody gang up on me when they were around, and they were kind to me themselves.
(Okay, fine. There was that one afternoon I spent alone with one of the boys at their house. What? I was a clueless, naive eighth-grader unknowingly making my obliterated reputation worse with another cute, smart jock, and he acted like a dick that day.)
I only know that our school got to point out the popularity of our Black kids and say, "See? We're progressive and inclusive. HashtagAllThat got handled sooooo long ago and we're a part of it."
Yep. We sure were.
Because for all our progress and inclusiveness, miraculously, I still came home spouting words I'd heard at school. Words my parents were very quick to squash from my clueless parrot-mouth by informing me what they truly meant.
"Pffff...naw. He J3w3d me down."
"Oh, man, we totally got G!p3d."
"It was so cool! We N!##3#-rigged that fort and--"
Just writing some of this shit, Bl33p3d out or not, makes me shudder and seethe. AND IT SHOULD.
Lately I've been learning about a whole host of other clueless, racist things I've blabbered for decades, only now learning where they actually come from. Seriously. Google it. "Words and sayings you never knew were racist." Articles about it were everywhere last summer.
I'm sure I'm still fucking it up because it's such an insidious, widespread infiltration that if you don't know, you just can't know.
Until you start looking for it.
And good that it's finally coming to light.
So back to my little elementary school parrot-mouth...
Although I was acquainted with a handful of Black individuals, I had never, to my knowledge, known any Jewish people. I was one of those oddball Catholics in the land of Lutherans and Presbyterians. I didn't encounter any human who wasn't some breed of Christian until college (or if I did, they didn't advertise that fact), and even then it was extremely rare. No town fringes of my homeland were "plagued by those d!rt! G!p$!3$"--although we had certainly heard about such dangers. ("And shhh...they kinda sound like those other dirty, thieving, dangerous people up there in the north woods.")
After all, although we had a primarily Scandinavian demographic, Germanic was right behind that, and our grandparents had seen World War II. Remember that "dumb Pol@©k" thing?
Which brings me to another fascinating question.
Although our area carried obvious hangovers from prejudices against Jews-n-Gypsies, I wonder how many of my neighbors said, "Oh, I'm Swedish and Norwegian and English," and then felt compelled to give a dismissive (sort of embarrassed) shrug while muttering, "and I think I might have a touch of German on my mother's side," while hoping nobody would hold that against them or call them a Nazi in the decades after the Reich fell. I wonder if any of them just zipper-mouthed their German heritage.
Because, for the first half of my life, when meeting someone new, one of the earliest burning, and all-important questions one American would ask another was, "What nationality are you?" Especially when the two strangers in question were feeling out the possibility of activities that could lead to procreating.
Our answer back then was never, "American."
I didn't consciously understand why at the time, but can I tell you how swiftly, loudly-n-proudly my little-girl mouth always made sure to add an instinctual, "And I think I have a touch of Swedish," in the hopes that this would rectify a shred of all my ancestral and aesthetic transgressions?
Goes to show just how much kids pick up in spite of everything we don't say, and in spite of being fed societal lies.
And joyous of joys! Can I also tell you how much I feel like a big turd spouting these terse words when there are gobs of people of Scandinavian descent or from Scandinavian countries, and all sorts of things about Scandinavian cultures that I adore? Same with German. Same with Minnesotan. Same with Catholic people and Boomer people and blonde/blue-eyed people and popular people and people with penises or any other category that lumps people into groupings, based off a single aspect of their being.
Toldja. Touchy. Tricky.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT LAST TIME:
1) I know, I know. I wouldn't have capitalized Black in those days. But...fuck that.
2) The Indigenous/Indian/Native American populations in Minnesota. No, I haven't stuck with one PC label, because there isn't just one indigenous population in Minnesota. Also because of how many times I've met someone or read a piece like this who negates the PC teachings of what I'm "supposed" to do. Rather, they proudly insist upon, for instance, being called Indian rather than Native American, or Gypsy/Gitana rather than Romany, or this one over here who despises when people call zir Latinx. In these cases, I have to adjust according to each individual.
2) Hmmmmm... Treating people as individual people and actually doing it how they like it done instead of making ASSumptions based on what I think their race and heritage and gender and etc. etc. etc. is at first glance? (Now, I personally have other topics I'd like to get to when I interact with someone than identifiers, so if I get it wrong at first glance, I'll be thrilled with a specification of your favored
identifier. I'll also be apologetic if I can't keep track of everybody's individual preferences until we've interacted for some time. With simple human limitation compounded by my Dain Bramage in mind, I'll appreciate YOUR sensitivity and consideration for my disability. Thanks.)
So that's pretty much my policy. What do YOU prefer? Cool. It is done.*clap-clap* If you like ze/zir, I’m happy to learn the mental acrobatics to carve it into my 50-year-old automatic vocabulary. If you prefer Lakota, I will be thrilled to be specific. If you like your B capitalized as a sign of respect, consider them all capitalized in my writing and in my mind and heart, even if I miss one out of old habit. If you like your W capitalized as a white supremacist middle finger, consider all my w's staunchly lowercase.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: PART 3 - WELL CRAP, NOW I'M TOO WHITE - that pasty-chick who fell in love with the dances, martial arts, and spiritual practices of the world outside her demographic--and then bastardized them.
--Did you miss all my adventures in that little town? You can find them here under CHILDHOOD BULLYING and LOVE, SEX & VIOLENCE
--OR if you need a break from these subjects, there are many shinier, happier places to dig: