Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How to Offend a Black New Yorker (from Sun City, South Africa)

Don't you love it when you purposely try to avoid saying anything stupid or offensive, only to slip and say something even stupider and more offensive? While we were up in Sun City this past weekend, I met two African Americans (to be poilitically correct) from NYC. Both were jazz musicians, and one had his own little jazz club in Harlem. "Harlem!" I said. "Well, I have a friend who used to live in Harlem. She's white as can be, obviously, but she really enjoyed living there." A couple days later I thought, "Obviously? Why would you use the word 'obvious'? You moron." I've thought about it a lot over the past few days (ok, not that much, but more than I should have)... and I came to the conclusion that we are TOO politically correct in America. In Africa, people are called blacks, browns, whites - but when I talk to an African American, I feel nervous using those terms at all. And so I found myself stammering - when I was talking about my housekeeper/nanny, Rijanah, I couldn't just call her African, because there are plenty of white Africans. And she's certainly not African American... she's brown. And the waiters at the hotel we were staying at are considered black. And I'm white. That's all there is to it. We're constantly walking on eggshells in America. I've had black friends in America. My first crush in Kindergarden was on a little black boy. My best friend as a child was the (only) black girl in my catholic school. I love India Arie. I even like some rap music. I'm not a racist person. And yet I find myself so nervous when speaking with African Americans, that I innevitably slip up and say goofy, offensive things. That's just plain sad. Granted, the two New Yorkers didn't seem very offended, but I once got reported to HR (in America, of course) for saying that white people can't dance (and it wasn't a white person that reported me). I'm all for a society without racism, but the color (or lack thereof) of our skin is nothing to be ashamed of, as long as we treat others with the respect and decency that we, ourselves, expect from those around us.

Well, I have to run, it's black history month, and I'm certain I've offended enough people for now... TABOO!

1 comment:

Jen said...

I'm glad to have been your "harlem connection!" though, i'm not sure why, either, you used "obviously." i think it had less to do with PC and probably more to do with the idea behind the story--you were trying to say something without giving a long story which left out an important fact (that I was a white girl living in harlem) and so you used the word "obviously" because once you realized you needed to mention that tidbit in order to make your point, it just didn't come out of your mouth the way you intended. Make sense? Basically, don't overthink it! It was just a conversational faux pas not a PC faux pas.