First, a story.
She had dark brown hair and her eyes were the same, but shining. I remember that she smiled at me when she said hello, and cast her eyes downward as if somewhat embarrassed.
She looked nice, and I was glad to have a new colleague.
We didn’t speak much her first day. Hey, I was still relatively new to the kindergarten… learning the ropes, planning and executing the English lessons. She was absorbed with finishing her education. Down to the last 6 weeks, this internship was her ticket to becoming a German preschool teacher… a 3 to 4 year endeavor.
However, we did get a moment between lessons and lunch, when we took the kids out to the playground and as they ran around, I stood beside her and asked her about herself. 24, finished secondary school at the highest level, Italian blood. I told her about me, 22, studying ESL, American. Her eyes still held that embarrassment from when we’d met in the morning, but now they also showed exhaustion.
I asked her how her first day was going.
“I don’t know if this is for me,” She admitted.
“Really?” I was surprised, “I mean, yeah it’s a lot of work, but the kids are rewarding, don’t you think?” She said to me, “You know, maybe I’m just tired because it’s my first day.” I laughed, “Well, this job is definitely good birth control!”
Her embarrassed eyes grew cold and confused. There was a deeply awkward silence where I had expected to hear laughter, and she looked at me curiously, “Birth control?”
That threw me off completely. I thought perhaps we were having some lost-in-translation moment. “Antibabypille.” I said (which is, actually, the German word for birth control lol).
She said to me, “Yeah…. what is that?”
I looked at her blankly. “Antibabypille?!” She nodded…
I began to explain: “You know.. it’s the hormonal pill you can take every month so you don’t have to worry about getting one of these” — I pointed to the children — “when you have sex”.
The word sex caused her to cringe. “Oh!” She exclaimed, “No. I don’t know that. I’m not having sex.” She said the word like it was dirty. I thought to myself, Oh god what have I gotten myself into. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. And she did, but not before adding, “God wants me to wait until I’m married” while flashing her purity ring.
Now for some people reading this story, they will know exactly what kind of person I had just encountered. But for those like my colleagues, this must sound baffling. My colleagues were absolutely unprepared for the fundamentalist tornado this chick was going to try and twist the kindergarten into during her 6 week stay.
During her time there, she quietly invited my American colleague (who also happened to be the only other Black person in the preschool) and I to her “birthday party” which just so happened to be at her church. She talked to us in private about her dreams of going to Uganda and saving those “poor people” with White Jesus. She went to her church almost everyday after work and talked frequently about visiting the church in America that her German church collaborates with. She brought in business cards with bible verses printed on them and handed them only to my American colleague and I — and our colleague Jessica*, who had graduated from the lowest school in Germany, the least educated out of all of us. These things were never done in front of my other Aryan colleagues, and I believe Jessica only saw snippets because her education status has classist implications. The Italian Intern was there for the Blacks, the Uneducated, and the Children. A true angel.
So why didn’t we say anything?
Well, we did.. kind of. First, the three of us talked amongst ourselves, exchanging stories and figuring out what she was up to. My American colleague wanted to see it as a joke, Jessica chose to ignore it, and I did too, although perhaps for other reasons than Jessie.
But on the Italian Intern’s final day at the kindergarten, shit went down.
My American colleague was teasing. He said, “Hey, let’s go to the club tonight to celebrate your last day!” The Italian Intern smiled with that embarrassment I had come to know very well. “You know I cannot go there.” She said.
“Why not? We’ll celebrate!”
“There’s bad energy in those places.”
“No there’s not.. I go there all the time and have a great time!”
“Okay, but… it’s not a place for… me.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know… Christians.”
My American colleague laughed, “I’m Christian. And girl, my mom’s as Christian as they get. She goes to the club every Saturday… and church every Sunday! Never misses!”
Jessie and I laughed but for the first time the embarrassment in the Italian Intern’s smile dissipated and what I saw next was something dark underneath. It was a sneer. My colleagues caught it too. The room grew hot.
“What?” He said, “What’s wrong?”
She was smug and rapid in response, “Nothing.”
“Christians can go to the club.” He said defensively.
“No…” She said, her voice softer now, attempting to guide him. “True Christians don’t go to the club.”
“Are you saying my mom’s not a true Christian?”
And this sparked an intense debate.
Now I have just given this entire conversation in English, but now imagine, this is a bilingual kindergarten taking an immersion approach, so actually the way it really went down was that she spoke in German, he spoke in English, Jessica sat silently, and I translated between them.
Up until this point, I was annoyed but cooperative, but the territory was turning uncomfortably close to a place I never wanted to return to.
My American colleague attempted to mend relations by making it a matter of “different denominations”.
“You see,” He said, “I’m Baptist. What are you?”
“Evangelisch.” She replied.
Now this is why you don’t have these conversations through a translator. Especially one from an “Evangelisch” background like the Italian Intern’s… because when my American colleague looked at me for the translation, I said, “She’s fundamentalist.”
She understood me completely.
“Why would you say something like that?” She asked me. I could hear the pain in her voice. But it was time.
I was plain: “Because that’s what you are. You’re a fundamentalist.”
She repeated her question. I kept steady, and calmly asked her the following:
“Do you believe the earth is 6,000 years old?”
She laughed. “Well do you really believe it’s millions of years old?!”
“Billions. Do you believe in evolution?”
She laughed. “Do you really believe we come from monkeys?!”
I smiled at her, “It’s a little more complex than that.”
I had one more.
“Do you believe that we are all going to hell?” I motioned at me, Jessie, and my American colleague.
“I….I….” She couldn’t say anything. And all I could say next was, “That’s fundamentalism. And I get it… I really do. But you spent these last 6 weeks so absorbed in ‘saving us’ that you didn’t even get to know us. Do you really think you could go to Uganda and save those people there with your God when you can’t even relate to the people here? Trust me when I say, I know that you are doing this out of love. Because when you look at us, you see us suffering in fiery eternities… and you know we are nice, good people. And that just doesn’t make sense. So now I’ll ask you… Could it be that maybe you’re the one that needs to re-evaluate your beliefs?”
That basically ended the conversation. Our Aryan colleague came in, and of course, this was one of those secret conversations, and it was time for her to go. She’d failed her internship, not because she was a fundamentalist, but because she genuinely was pretty bad with kids. After she left, we told the other colleagues about the conversation and they were truly disturbed and dumbfounded. No one could imagine her to be that way, and if Jessie and the American hadn’t heard her with their own ears, they wouldn’t either.
As they laughed and mocked her though, I sat silently. Solemnly. I wanted to go to the bathroom. I wanted to cry. Because what I had just said wasn’t really to her. What I had said was to the girl I used to be. The girl with the purity ring.
And if you can understand my pain with this story, then maybe you can understand how I feel talking about race sometimes with other mixed-Black people. Being mixed is like being in this in-between, where you deal with anti-Blackness on the regular but are often raised with the conditioning to block it out. You regurgitate white-supremacist rhetoric with conviction and can’t see how it’s actually you that’s missing the big picture. You think you have it all figured out, when really there are endless dimensions of reality you’ve had the privilege to dismiss. And then society hands you the microphone to speak for an entire diverse community.
That’s what I wish I could have said to the mixed-Black woman who wrote the shitty pro-Trump article I came across this afternoon before she sent it to the editor. Instead I was baited into clicking her disturbing work because she left out her biracial identifier and wrote as a Black Woman voting for Donald Trump… going on to tell readers her twisted reasoning and how if you’re a good nigger like her, you’ll do the same. It was as if she’d ripped the page right out of the Book of Coondom. The book I know so well.
What hurt me most about the article was the way she tried to disguise herself in order for her views to “resonate” as valid beliefs from the community. While we are not a monolith, her views were very much consistent with the views of a mixed-Black person, not a Black person (although, disclaimer, obviously coons come in all shapes and colors).
But I know what I’m talking about when I speak of this writer who I’ve never met before because I read her piece, and a few others, and I recognize her the same way I could recognize the fundamentalist in front of me as soon as she flashed her purity ring. Because in another dimension I am that person. That was my reality. And therefore I can intimately understand those points of views… as fucked up as they are.
Being out of it, of course I sometimes want to dismiss them too. Take back their Black Cards. Call them coons. But our community is one of the most diverse on the planet, and while some people can respond to this nonsense that way, that’s simply not my identity. Like it or not, coons are in this too and as long as this society is rooted in white supremacy they will be given the microphone. They will be given platforms on Vice and CNN and The View to regurgitate white supremacist views in Blackface.
And so those of us with those same coon aesthetics have to be louder. When you’re given the microphone, whose voices will you amplify? If it’s not your more marginalized siblings, those more violently silenced, the only work you’re really doing is as an agent for The Establishment that’s inflicted oppression on People of Color for hundreds of years.
Sorry sis, but the answers to the economic crises of Black America is not to strike our immigrant siblings also oppressed by white supremacy. Similar to the Audre Lorde quote, it’s white supremacy that wants us to fight each other for the crumbs the system flicks down at us so that we never unite for the pie! But sis, you clearly didn’t get that. Have the privilege not to have to get that. Instead, you used your micro existence to perpetuate macro ideas of violent immigration reform so “our people” have better access to low-end jobs. Does that idea of “liberation” actually make sense to you?
Donald Trump is her idea of liberation in America the same way White Jesus was the Italian Intern’s idea of salvation in Uganda. Wrong.
Another of my sisters caught wind of my disturbance (see: twitter rant) and asked me a pretty simple question:
I linked it, with my commentary, and now with this post, because that’s my role as a mixed-Black person. I want to connect with all my siblings of the Diaspora for the purposes of creating and healing together, but that also means I have to listen to my siblings further on the fringes, and stay on my ballpark people. My very nuanced group in our very diverse community. Those of us in the in-between, who are far too often, down in Coonville.
That’s why I talk about colorism in my feminism. That’s why I have to call out my mixed-Black sister who tried to erase our sisters’ work in order to generate clickbait for Vice.
That’s why I’m on the side that believes mixed-Black people should identify as such. Not to lose or distance our Blackness, but to recognize our privilege. So shit like the article I read today can’t get that Black Stamp, too.
There are enough of us mixed-Black folk awake and speaking out that there’s no excuses for this. I am thankful for Amandla Stenberg, Colin Kaepernick, Jesse Williams, and Zendaya… but every now and then we have to load up the truck and head into Coonville to choke up or drown out the Zoe Saldanas, Don Lemons, and Stacey Dashes. I linked it because that’s my role.