Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm NOT chocolate

I know some folks out there think I have these super strong opinions about lots of things.  Truth is, I don't.  I have opinions about most things, and I have strong opinions about some things- but the word "strong" in front of the words "opinions about most things" just isn't there.

Thing is, if we're talking about hair... well.  I read a book, I talked with some folks, I made some gentle observations, ta-da.  No big deal.  You do your thing, I'll do mine- no hurt feelings (but perhaps we've learned a bit more about each other and the world due to the conversation?).  On the other hand, if we're talking about abortion- phew-ya.  I have some strong opinions.  And I'm fairly sure that the majority of you would disagree with me on those.  Although maybe not?  (But that's for another time.  Maybe.)

So.  The chocolate and vanilla thing.  Yep.  It's something that I still have yet to form a solid opinion on.  I've got the book.  I've read some blogs.  I'm still forming.  Thinking.  Wondering.

Today one of my beautiful Latina students approached me with these huge tears in her eyes and said in a fairly shaky voice: "Oswaldo keeps on calling me 'chocolate' and I keep telling him to stop and he won't and I don't like it!"  When I asked her why she thought he was calling her chocolate, she said she thought it was because of her skin color. And the thing is, Angie does have this amazingly brown, milk chocolaty skin color. So beautifully dark that many of the children say she looks like Martin Luther King.  And for the most part, she smiles and moves on.  But not today.  Nope. Today there were tears.  She was over the obvious being pointed out. 

Once we had a nice talk about who she is as a person, and how amazing she is in so many ways, Oswaldo got to come over and have a little chat with us.  Things were discussed, such as why he chose the word "chocolate," if he was meaning to hurt Angie's feelings, and what he needs to do when someone tells him to stop.  Angie even got another chance to use a strong voice with some strong words, ensuring that Oswaldo knew she meant business.  After the group hug (not really, but we did give bumps of the fist) I shared a secret with the two of them:  some people call folks with my skin color vanilla.  VANILLA!  Can you even believe it?  Just like the ice-cream.  Not kidding.

Vanilla.  Chocolate.  You.  Me.  White.  Black.

Do I have strong feelings about the descriptors in this case?  No.  Not yet.  I suppose it just seems like most things- some of us dig it, some of us don't.  It's up to the individual.  It's up to the group of people.  It's up to the intention.  It's up to you, it's up to me.  If you want to be called Ruth, let me know.  If you're down with my saying your skin color makes me think about chocolate cake, that's cool too.

What's offensive, what's not offensive?  Does it really do anything to describe yourself as the color of french toast?  I don't know.  Perhaps not?  Maybe so?  I'm still trying to decide.  You know, to form my opinion.  Something that more than likely won't be super strong, but might just help guide me on my path.