Home > Beautifully Blended, Ground Zero, Princess, raising girls, reflections on race > She loves me, she loves me not: Black, White, or Illegal Alien?

She loves me, she loves me not: Black, White, or Illegal Alien?

I touched on issues surrounding the term illegal alien* a couple weeks ago in Walking the (color)Line, when I mentioned a couple ways I suspected this term has affected my children’s perceptions of the Latino community. There was a part of me that wondered whether I was reading too much into things… but let’s just say that’s no longer a concern. Within the last week or two, I read a blog or article about multiracial girls being asked what color their husbands would be. I wondered if Halle had ever heard or been asked something like this. I made a little note to self to bring it up, but Thursday night in the car, she raised the subject. She was talking about how she was going to date a boy for one year when she grew up, and asked if that was too long. I told her it depended on the boy; with some boys, a year might be too long, with another, a year may not be long enough. She suddenly started talking about whether this boy might be white or black and something about so and so… I interrupted and asked if people asked her that, and she confirmed. Then I asked, “Do you guys talk about that?” and she responds matter of factly, “Oh, yeah.” I asked if that was something that had just come up this year, and she said no, it was last year too. I asked how it came up, and she said, just when they talk about who they think is cute. She continued with her story…   

“Anyway, so and so asked me once, and I said he would probably be Black or White, but not Mexican, but then I met Tristan, and I like him and I think he’s cute, and he’s Mexican…”   

Her voice trailed off.   

I asked why she hadn’t thought she would date someone who was Mexican before Tristan.   

“Well, cuz they do a lot of bad things. I mean, they’re always on the news cuz they’re criminals… and stuff.”   

cue my breaking (anti-racist) heart.   

Needless to say, we had an immediate conversation about perception, stereotypes, racism, media bias, and Bull Connor Jr. Nickel Bag Joe Sherrif Arpaio. And we will continue to have these conversations (and others, like how there are a lot more people in the world than just Black, White or Hispanic), because this IS a big problem. And it’s not because this flies in the face of what I believe personally, but because the seed of racism is finding roothold in the heart of THIS child.   

I love...

Her love is like the ocean...

 

This is my UU, social justice, civil action child. This is the child who drew the line with her peers over the n-word. This is the child who has volunteered to mentor special needs kids or served in student government or both for three of the four years she’s been attending her current school. This is the child whose teacher has made it a point to contact me no less than three times so far this school year to express his gratitude to and  praise the way Halle had befriended a new ESL student, which makes me wonder that my daughter’s unreserved offer of friendship is already rare by the age of 10. This is the child who took the initiative, unsolicited, and went to a Spanish-speaking teacher to get a “cheat sheet” of basic conversational phrases, and carried two spanish english dictionaries with her every day for the first two months of school.   

“Now think carefully about what I’m saying, and why it matters. Here was a woman who no longer could recognize her own children; a woman who had no idea who her husband had been; no clue where she was, what her name was, what year it was; and yet, knew what she had been taught at a very early age to call black people. Once she was no longer capable of resisting this demon, tucked away like a ticking time bomb in the far corners of her mind, it would reassert itself and explode with a vengeance. She could not remember how to feed herself. She could not go to the bathroom by herself. She could not recognize a glass of water for what it was. But she could recognize a nigger. America had seen to that, and no disease would strip her of that memory. Indeed, it would be one of the last words I would hear her say, before finally she stopped talking at all. “ ~Tim Wise, White Like Me   

This is the depth of our racist conditioning.   

*If you’re unaware of the controversy over the term Illegal Alien or just don’t get why people are “making such a big deal about it” or that it’s not just about being politically correct, I found an article that sums up what is so very wrong about this expression very well: Why use of the term “illegal alien” is inaccurate, offensive, and should be eliminated from our public discourse. | Border Crossing Law Blog.
 
 
 
 

             

 

  

When one refers to an immigrant as an “illegal alien,” they are using the term as a noun. They are effectively saying that the individual, as opposed to any actions that the individual has taken, is illegal. The term “illegal alien” implies that a person’s existence is criminal. I’m not aware of any other circumstance in our common vernacular where a crime is considered to render the individual – as opposed to the individual’s actions – as being illegal. We don’t even refer to our most dangerous and vile criminals as being “illegal.”

  

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  1. November 16, 2009 at 2:35 AM

    I remember that question very well from my youth and young adulthood – hopefully what’s different now is that I was often told that no one but black men would ever take me seriously or be romantically interested in me.

    Anyway, I think the situation with your daughter demonstrates how easy it is to pick up subtle racial biases, either because we don’t recognize them for what they are or because we’re consciously choosing them. She’s obviously a good girl, and kudos to you for engaging her on these subjects.

    • November 16, 2009 at 1:31 PM

      I have always worried a bit about Halle’s dating/marriage/partner choices would be limited by what race she would be accepted by, who she would be exoticized (did I just make up a word?) by… but I hadn’t thought about who she would consider acceptable based on her own racial biases. I guess I thought (or hoped) that the world would be more post-racial than it is from her perspective. That somehow the sheer force of my will would somehow innoculate her from developing her own racial bias.

      Thanks for the kudo, and I agree that it’s entirely too easy… I think it goes back to the whole “Love is not enough” philosophy. We are (or at least, I like to think we are) and actively anti-racist family… but even so, she has picked this negative bias towards Hispanic and Latino men, having told me on another occasion about a year ago that she thinks they kidnap kids. If she can pick up something like this despite frequent and ongoing dialogue about race and equality, what about the kids who are not engaged to discuss these issues and think critically about how people are portrayed?

      It scares me. really, really scared me.

  2. November 16, 2009 at 2:34 PM

    Wow, I never thought of the impact the term could have on one’s perceptions of an entire race.
    I’m – part Native part Mexican (Mom) and part Black part French (Dad) – I have some experiences to balance a lot of perceptions from those within my own family.

    I often hear my Mexican cousins talk bad about those who came to the country without documentation so I thought the term “illegal Alien” was fitting.

  1. August 25, 2010 at 12:01 AM

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