Saturday, February 04, 2006

I'm Not White, I'm Just Light Skinded

There are many many ways in which this neighborhood was a culture shock for me. I'm from the suburbs. I'm used to most people looking like me and talking like me. This neighborhood is a little different. Our school is about half black and half Latino, with a few Southeast Asian kids. (We used to have a large Vietnamese, Cambodian, Samoan, and Tongan population, but over the 6 1/2 years I've been there, they've mostly moved away). People sometimes turn to stare at me on the street - there's not a lot of reason for a white woman to be walking around in our neighborhood.

There have always been white teachers at our school. Conversation from my first year of teaching (first grade):

Student 1: There is every kind of kid in our class: Mexican, Black, Chinese. [the "Chinese" kid was Vietnamese]

Student 2: What about white kids?

Student 1: Silly, there ain't no white kids. There's only white teachers.

I thought when I started teaching third grade that the kids might have more of a realistic view, but after repeatedly being asked if I was black or Mexican, I had this conversation with a student. By the way, said student had two goals in life. He wanted to be either "a police or up in jail like my daddy. Because if you're a police, you can shoot the people who be messing with you and if you're up in jail you can have lots of friends who do whatever you say, just like my daddy do." Sadly, he's probably on his way. Anyway, the conversation went like this:

Student: Teacher, some kids was talking about you, and they was saying you was white. But I stood up for you and I said no you wasn't, you was black.

Me: You told them I was black?

Student: Yeah, I stood up for you.

Me: Do you think I'm black?

Student: Yeah, you's black. You's just light skinded.

Me: Honey, I'm actually white. Look at my skin color - see how light I am?

Student: You's white? You's not light skinded? [long pause] I'ma have to think about this...

What I've come to realize is that for a lot of the kids, it makes more sense for them to believe that I'm just abnormally light than to think there's a white person who cares this much about them and who they love. That is TOTALLY outside their concept of the world. It's fascinating - these race relations around here.

Note: Nothing in our school (except for talking about other people's mamas) can start a fight like skin color conversations. And yes, the way you pronounce it is light skinded. Also, "Teacher sprainded her ankle. My uncle passeded away." I've totally picked it up. My favorite: "I'm not fat, I'm just big boneded."


What's Cookin'? said...

Hello Bronwyn,
Do not be ashamed!!!You are doing a terrific job. I for one, will bookmark your site. It will let me in on a part of life I do not experience. And, will help others like me to understand.
Your conversation was delightful!!!
His Grace to you,

blue shoes said...

Welcome to Blogville, Bronwyn! Glad to have you aboard. I look forward to keeping posteded on the adventures :)

Anonymous said...

I'm big-boneded too!!

Laura said...

Wow... I just read all your blogs so far, and... wow. You are my hero, Bronwyn. :o) You really are an incredible example to me of a living sacrifice... pouring yourself out to love these kids, live and work where you do... I laughed out loud at the kid-conversations, especially this one above, but then was struck by your tragic insight as to why they would think you must be black. Wow. Thanks for sharing, Bronwyn, and I look forward to reading more!!

Anonymous said...

I see I won you over on the spelling of skinded. I have my linguist reasons if anyone cares.