Sunday, October 17, 2010

Real Housewives of DC: The Mis-Use of the Word “Racist”

by today’s Urban Chameleon contributor HaJ

Last Thursday’s Real Housewives of DC Reunion show sparked an interesting conversation with my family about race and culture. Cast member Stacie Scott Turner called co-star Mary Schmidt Amons out for personifying a more ethnic demeanor when talking to her; imitating the stereotypical “s” shape motion of the finger and head roll that is usually associated with Black women. Mary explained it as a “quirk” that has nothing to do with race. I beg to differ.

My family and I talked about how common it is to take on the persona of someone you interact with. When I get in front of Caribbean folks, three might turn into tree. A foreigner who speaks very little English may cause me to speak slower. If I’m in a corporate setting my “ing’s” are enunciated. When I’m with my Puerto Rican girls from around-the-way I may speak it so that juno.

My point is, dialects, hand motions and energy levels can constantly change depending on whom one interacts with. However, what I find problematic is when people take on an urban tone with me when I’m not personifying one.

In corporate environments, where I have been the minority, I've found this to be most common. A white colleague once sent me a work e-mail that started with, “What up yo.” I was the only person in the office that he seemed to take up this informal language with. I never initiated or reciprocated it. So where is this coming from?

He, like many others whom I’ve encountered, is personifying the only image of Black culture featured in media, Hip Hop. Therefore, it’s all they know, and as a result urban professionals everywhere fall victim to stereotypes. I remember a friend of mine from Inglewood annoyed with her boss for telling clients that she was from Compton; as if to brag that she was a child of a ghetto he had saved. Even Michelle Obama has been called a "Baby Mama." What in the hell! Not even the first damn lady of the United States can escape the stereotypes.

However, can we qualify this behavior as racist when people simply don't know any better? The fact is there are more images of Black rappers in media than urban professionals, more Asians portrayed as tech geeks than slouches, and Muslims as angry cynical bombers than people with hopes and dreams like everyone else.

The question is how does one become educated when more often than not… they don’t even know they’re NOT educated?

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1 comment:

  1. I have to say that I used to fall into the pattern of speaking differently when I was with my friends and old roommate, but like you said, it was more like I was picking up on the way they were speaking and unconsciously adjusting my manner of speech. When I was with my ex, who was West Indian, I started to use words that he used that I never was familiar with before.

    But, I would think it would be offensive to speak to an individual based not on their speech patterns but on their ethnicity.