Why I don’t post about being a man of colour

First of all, I really hate that term.  It’s like when I first found a box of my mom’s old Crayolas and noticed that what I was used to being “peach” was labelled “flesh”.  My white friends have colour too, it’s just a lighter shade.  Unfortunately, there’s not really another good term that encompasses everyone from Asians to African-Americans to Native Americans to Latinos so it’s what I use.

Second…it’s not a huge part of my identity.  I’m Latino.  Mexi-Rican to be more specific.  I have an olive complexion, horrible wavy hair that frizzes up like you wouldn’t believe, but isn’t curly enough to be fun, and dark eyes.  However, this isn’t something that I ever considered important.  I grew up in an area where there were a wide variety of ethnicities and we all got along fine so I didn’t consider it to be important until well into my 20s.

What’s more, I didn’t start being visibly Latino to anyone outside California until two or three years ago.  Other Latinos can always tell, rather like having gaydar, but very few others could.  Most non-Latino, non-Californians assumed I was Jewish, if they assumed anything at all.  There’s this image of all Latinos (particularly Mexicans) as being short, square, dark skinned, black haired people.  I’m short, but not square by any means, I have a skintone no one knows what to do with, and hair that turns almost blond in the summer.  It’s only now that I’m starting to develop more Latin features (yay T!) that people are starting to notice.

So I don’t have a ton of experience with being a man of colour.  Even what little I have I have nothing to compare to.  I was never considered a woman of colour in an area where it would have mattered.  Sure, everyone in my home town knows my ethnicity.  However, it was an area where the only thing that might get you discriminated against was being Republican.

I can’t talk about it because I honestly couldn’t come up with anything to say.  I know racism still exists now (that honestly was a revelation to me at 20), but because I wasn’t raised experiencing it I don’t know what discrimination is based on race and what’s based on gender or sexuality or religion or whatever else.  I’m not exactly a fountain of privilege here, about the only thing I’ve got going for me is being a dude.  It can be hard to tell sometimes.

4 Replies to “Why I don’t post about being a man of colour”

  1. Hi Not Another Aiden,

    I know this is somewhat off-topic here, but I did not find any E-mail address in your blog.

    I’d love to write a guest blog entry for your blog about being trans and growing up between two or more cultures. As gender roles/expectancies can be very different from one country to another (or one social class or subculture to another, by the way). We can also write that stuff together, me writing a draft and you commenting it or adding to it, or going to and fro until the article is really good. As far as I got it, you’re a Puerto Rican and/or Mexican in the USA, and I am a Frenchman in Germany. So that’s quite a lot of experiences we can throw together for the article.

    If you’re interested in the article, just send me an e-mail and tell me if you want a guest article or a teamwork or to comment and add on my article etc.

  2. Sorry this posting is horribly long, but it’s worth reading.

    Back on topic:

    I don’t have that much experience of the USA and the people there thinking in boxes even more than in the country I live in, and what clichés go with that. I spent a couple of weeks in the USA though and found out that race seems to be even more of an issue there than in Germany. Though there is also racism in Germany and occasionally, you still have to deal with the left-overs of the Hitler regime brainwashing. But I still think it’s less harsh than in the USA, here it’s rather lack of experience with people of other “races” and cultures farther away than the mediterranean area than mutual prejudices, hate and distrust having built up over decades and centuries such as in the USA with its history of slavery.

    Let me give you three examples for this ignorance. An elder woman told me of a village party in Germany where a black guy was present, and a 4-year-old girl bit his arm as she thought he was made of chocolate cause of his skin color being like the color of milk chocolate (she had never seen a black guy before). It hurt him, but he did not get angry at her at all after her explanation, he laughed instead.

    And the first time I ever met black people as a little child (3 years old) was at the airport or main train station of Paris. I pointed at them and said to my parents: “Look! There are dark brown people here. Why are they dark brown?” The black guys laughed, and my parents then explained to me that some people have a dark skin color and these people come from Africa. And that it was not okay to point at people. And it’s true, most of the blacks are not black but brown. Well and when I was 10 or 11 and was walking around in the town I lived then, I saw a black guy with a band-aid on his arm, in the peach color for white people and this looked very strange. But then I thought, we don’t have these for black people here as there’s really not many black people living here, so he has to stick to what he gets.

    Now, I have moved and live close to a town with a comparatively huge black community (mostly people from Africa, not USA or Caribbeans), even a kind of “black” quarter though they are still the minority there, and black people can get their proper products in a couple of little African shops, like hairproducts for thick African hair, or makeup for black ladies, band-aid which doesn’t look ridiculous on your body etc., and these small shops also somewhat serve as hairdresser shops as they also make dread-locks, braids etc. for black, white and mulatto people there and several other hairstyle things, and this takes hours or even two days. But they interrupt their hairdresser job whenever a client comes in, serve him and return to braiding once they are out. (I wanted to tell you this, NotAnotherAdrian, as you are a professional hairdresser.) They also sell or rent Nollywood movies there (Nigerian movies), African food, clothes, magazines etc. If you like culture clashes, google for “Nollywood” in youtube. It’s low-tech but the actors are first-class and some of these movies are about culture clashes.

    As I am a French native speaker, I got close to the African community there, as many of them speak French even better than I do and it’s relaxing to be able to talk to people in your native language. The black African guys in Germany almost see you as a “brother” or “sister” even if you’re white as sour cream but at least French-speaking and a foreigner too- which is cool. I also love their relaxed, out-going, spontaneous and day-by-day mentality though it’s very different from mine.

    But before dressing male with short hair and still not on testosterone, which just screamed BUTCH LESBIAN, African guys tended to be very annoying with hitting on me on the street before transition (I ran around with long hair and gothic style fetish clothes and my outfit was really hot, I must admit) and they tended to complain I was a racist if I didn’t want to date, marry or fuck them right away. This was annoying. Plus I had to deal with the guys who wanted to marry fast so they could stay in Germany forever. Well I don’t mind wearing wedding dresses, they’re hot, but not for marriage and not ME in such a dress during marriage. Some of the black Africans just asked on the street right away if I would marry them, without me knowing them before. That was weird, but I understand the pressure they had on their back. They could get their asylum request refused and brought back to their country at any time, and get shot at the airport at home as traitors – this actually happened to a close friend I had, from Zaire/Congo. Maybe I should really have married him, I don’t know. I still feel bad about it. He was 16.

    Black African girls were always cool and nice with me, no hassle whatsoever. Just nice to talk to. But we mostly have African guys here, often they are sons of rural chieftains who come here for political asylum as their father adhered to the “wrong” fraction so their own and their eldest son’s life was at risk as well. Cause their eldest son was supposed to rule the tribe in the future so they had to send him somewhere where he would not be killed until the unstable political situation in their home country settled down. And of course, these blue-blooded chieftain sons were like princes where they came from and were treated like “primitive niggers” here and did not get along with this extreme change. You also have the black Africans from the big cities here, which are kind of different, but they get even more pissed of at being confronted to the “Africans live in huts in the middle of nowhere in the Savannah” myth, and I understand them hating this cliché.

    Plus the mentality clash. Germans are usually neither out-going nor spontaneous etc. – the absolute contrary to black African mentality. Both Black African and German cultures were a lot into status symbols, but it were very different status symbols, often contradictory. The mentality clash between Germany and black Africa is about the most extreme on the face of the planet I can imagine, maybe apart from Japanese and black African mentality, or Japanese and Russians.

    It’s difficult for the African guys, so they are happy whenever they meet a guy who at least speaks French well and is also a foreigner and feels not completely at home in Germany (French and black African mentality are less of a clash, plus many black Africans speak French better than German or even like a mother tongue). And I am happy too, cause I meet way more black Africans than French people here who speak French (the French just don’t tend to move to Germany cause the culture clash is huge!). And I kinda like the black African mentality, not all of it, but much. And I love watching Nollywood movies.

    A black African guy (I’ll call him Michel and I don’t remember which country or tribe he was from) once had asked me right away, just after finding out he could speak in French with me and that I was French, if I was a lesbian as I had a short haircut and wore butch clothes then and I told him, no, but I am bisexual. (I did not tell him of me being trans then.) He asked me if we could meet in a café as he had lots of questions making him unhappy and he was happy to happen to meet someone who seemed right to talk to for a personal matter he almost never talked about but needed advice, and as I was bi, I could maybe help him there…

    I said okay, and so we met at a café and talked in French there (which means talking openly in public, as few Germans understand French fluently, especially if it’s French with an African dialect which is very hard to understand if you’re no native speaker or used to it.

    He then told me that his father was a chieftain of a village in Africa, and his elder brother (let’s call him George) was supposed to take over the duty to rule the village, and therefore also had to marry and have kids so the lineage went on. No ruling without wife and kids. And dad got angry about George not getting married and getting kids. But George lived in San Francisco and was gay. I asked Michel about his elder brother’s clothing style and yes, it was clearly the typical leatherguy outfits (black leather trousers etc.), but I kept my mouth shot there and did not explain this to Michel, and he did not seem to have any clue what this dresscode meant.

    Then Michel told me what was the trouble with all this. Their father did not know that George was gay, and if he ever knew, the father or Michel should have killed him as a gay son was considered such a shame in this tribe that you had to kill him if you were his father or brother to keep the honor of the family. No matter how much it made you suffer to kill your own kid. Also if this meant buying an expensive plain ticket to get to San Francisco and back (This family was rich compared to the other people in the village, but poor compared to European standards.) It was just a duty to fulfill – kill your queer son, point.

    Well and Michel was stuck in-between. He did not want to betray his father by lying at him concerning his brother, but he did not want to put his elder brother into life danger either as he loved him. And he thought it was ridiculous to kill his brother for being gay, as he thought there’s nothing wrong with being gay, he had a western attitude to this topic. But the tribe’s honor system would have requested him outing his brother to his father or even killing George on his own. And lying at one’s father was an absolute no-go in this tribe as well, or keeping secrets from one’s father, which made Michel feel very ashamed and doing wrong – and it was also dangerous for him, as hiding away this kind of stuff to your father and village chieftain meant you had to be killed for reasons of honor if it came out. As you HAD to tell your father everything, and even more if he was a chieftain.

    At least, there was also an option according to the tribe’s rules. If the eldest son did not manage to get married and have kids for whatever reasons, the second one could do it and become the chieftain – that would have been Michel. But Michel did not feel ripe for a long-term relationship then (he was in his mid-20ies). Michel was straight, but it did not feel right for him then to settle down with wife and kids, he felt too immature for that, plus taking the responsability of a whole tribe (or village?) was even a worse thought for him. As an African chieftain does not just have power, but also lots of responsability. But his father and tribe put a lot of pressure on him to find a wife etc. as the oldest brother somehow did not manage to get married and have kids, so they hoped at least someone in the family could take over the chieftain role.

    Poor Michel! Best I could suggest to him was to keep on not disclosing his elder brother being gay to his father, never ever! And try to tell the tribe he will have children and take the responsability of being a chieftain in the future, but still needs some time to mature and was not “ripe” for a wife and children yet. I argued from the point of view of a Christian, which I am, and this means, avoiding killings is the most important thing in cases such as this. You don’t want other people to get killed. I don’t know what has happened to this family since then.

    If you tell a German that a black or black-white mixed person is a German, they tend to get big eyes and go like: really? German nationality is still clinged a lot to “blood” by law, though not exclusively, this is one of the left-overs of the Nazi regime and has also remained in the German mentality by now. Like if you could not be German if you’re Asian, African, Turkish etc. though you have a German nationality and ID card and were born here etc. or even adopted at birth.

    I’m just so happy I have a German “passing” though I’m not a German, though from my looks I also pass as Italian or Turkish – and sometimes people address me in Italian or Turkish and I don’t understand a word then (well, Italian I understand a bit). A friend of mine, a Turkish guy with a good German passing (light skin, black hair, grey-blue eyes and an exotic but non-obviously Turkish name which can “pass” as German) told me people tend to treat him differently once they know he’s Turkish and this pisses him off. We have lots of Turkish people here from a big immigration wave since about 50 years ago and still lasting, and Germans and Turkish people often don’t get along very well. Big culture clash.

    We have about 100.000 black Germans here in Germany, maybe even more, plus hundreds of thousands of “mulattos”. You can say “Mulatte” here without it being considered an offensive term – or you say “Café au Lait” – French term for the half-milk, half-coffee drink – which is somewhat cooler and comes close to their skin color but it’s less known overall. I have a couple of black-and-white mixed friends and both terms are okay for them, but they kind of prefer “café au lait”.

    I never felt really happy about being called “white”, as my skin color is not white, but beige, and I think only albinos can really be called white – though even they have a kind of very pale pastel rose skin tone. And yes, I have white privilege in Germany. I found that out when talking to black African guys about their experiences in Europe/Germany, like Germans tended to think their family lived in huts in the middle of nowhere, though they in fact lived in wealthy areas of the African metropoles. And I also have central European privilege as I’m not obviously mediterranean from my looks or accent (no foreign accent when speaking German). Before talking to black African and Turkish people I was not aware of that privilege I have.

    Oh, and don’t get me wrong. I also have and had a lot of contacts with arabian Africans (Morocco, Tunesia, Algeria…). That’s a very different cup of tea, very different mentality, and those living in Germany are often very well-educated, conservative but open-minded. There are many very great people in arabian Africa as well and the most astouning discovery was that they even often speak and write French better than the French (!!!), plus very good English, German etc. Arabic Africans tend to be some of the best language geniuses I ever had to deal with – wow! And I’m also sure, black Africans can be very different depending on the individual and the country or tribe they’re from. I just never got so much into details there that I could figure it out in detail, plus I’m not good at geography.

    Okay so much about experiences from other countries dealing with racism.

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