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satanslesbianmother  asked:

I am creating a black female character for a story that takes place in an area where...well, she's surrounded by white people who are almost obsessively politically correct, to the point of enforcing "colorblindness." I feel it's important to her character and to authenticity for her to react to her white friends being intimidated around the subject of race, but I don't want to end up writing the white person's "ideal black response" unintentionally. Any pointers?

Black Girl Living in a “Colorblind” Environment

Hey there,

Wooow, that’s like my entire life over here. Yes, I do have some pointers, but they’ll mostly just be my thoughts and experiences. Not everyone will have the same reactions as I do, but I hope this will help.

Internalized Racism

So I’ll just start by saying this is the perfect breeding ground for internalized racism. It is an everyday thing so subtle, so normalized absolutely every time, that the racism is hardly ever recognized for what it is. If your character is somewhat like me or people I know, they will struggle with the urge to not stand out, try to assimilate into the dominant culture or distance themselves from their culture(s) at the expense of their own identity, feeling the need to compensate and deflect stereotypes. They’ll be gaslit left and right, and replying with anything other than silence or agreement will most of the time start discussions or fights. They might at times feel like they’re living a lie, feel out of place and start questioning themselves. There’s more but you get the gist of it.

Reactions to Environment

Now most reactions will come down to: 

1) completely rejecting the white people and their culture,

2) trying to become like the white people and take on their views, 

3) or social withdrawal. 

What they all have in common is A LOT of unease surrounding your roots, your race and expressing your true self. 

Daily Struggles

There will be a lot of tension and anxiety when matters of race surface, even when they don’t end up mentioned or discussed. Feeling like you don’t belong, that you’ll only be accepted as long as you keep your mouth shut about racism.

Feeling unsafe comes to mind. I imagine your character desperately searching for people who might be different, looking for friends of color online, trying to make sense of their experiences by searching online, that sort of thing. If they do try to express themselves it’s because that person gives them the feeling that they just might be a bit more understanding than others and might get into discussions desperately trying for them to understand them. I imagine them not wanting to be seen as a stereotype while not wanting their race/roots/ethnicity pushed aside. High chances they will be passive aggressive about it because they lack any other meaningful way to express themselves. 

Of course there will be Black and brown people who’re content with assimilating into a culture like this. Good for them. But plenty of people also force themselves to believe that in order to survive. 

That’s what most of it comes down to. Surviving an environment that’s hostile towards you while it masquerades as your dear friend. 

~ Mod Alice

Daily Struggles - Racism & Racial Tension

In middle school, I had this friend. I was telling her a story involving someone else when she asked a strangely-worded question. 

“Did she look like you or me?” 

I was all “huh” until she pointed to my arm, my skin.

“Like you…” She said, then pointed to her own arm. “Or like me?”

I instantly fed off of the race-is-scary vibe and just muttered “Oh, like you…”

I grew up in a slightly less intense version of Alice’s environment, and my experience was passive-aggressive racism (micro-aggressions) with both the micro-aggressions and aggressive racism brushed over and kept low key. (That lady moved her purse when you walked by because she thinks you’ll steal it? Nah, she just needed it to warm her lap!)

I rarely felt the heat of racism. It wasn’t as blatant. Still, it happened in pockets.

Daily “racial tension” would be stares in public because seeing a Black person in the supermarket was a marvel. At school and other frequented places, well, they get used to you, so unless you’re the very new kid, it’s not likely she’d be made awkward on the day-to-day for existing (At least not until slavery is discussed and everyone is turning their heads to stare at her..).

Colorblind Environment and Balancing Culture

Alice hit the main points. Some reject the dominant culture, some embrace it (and may even allow and make race jokes at their own expense to cope) and some withdraw completely. I don’t think anyone fits into any neat category. 

Consider that your character may fall on a scale of embracing her situation, and rejecting some aspects. No one person is the same. 

I think background and home life will affect how she copes in this environment. I moved into my super-white town at a pretty young age, prior to that growing up in a culturally-diverse city and had sisters who did as well. We were able to embrace our culture at home among each other and other family even if that openness could not be experienced with most people in the neighborhood. If I’d been older before I moved, I probably wouldn’t have given a damn a bit more, or rejected more of the environment’s culture, but hey. 

Either way, it’s very possible for her to blend and embrace more than one culture. But how one embraces or how much, depends on the person.

Now, embracing different culture depending on the environment and code-switching doesn’t mean you’re at a cultural crisis or both sides cannot co-exist. For example, while I was made awkward about race in one experience, around that same age and time, I brought a bigger celebration of Black History Month to that same school by approaching administration on the severe lack of it. With permission and the help of friends, we made posters and announcements celebrating prominent Black leaders and inventors. That would not have happened if I didn’t have cultural pride being nourished elsewhere.

In Short

With maturity, self-realization, getting away from that environment and/or connecting with a knowledgeable and accepting group of people comes accepting what living in the dominant culture has made you, and hopefully embracing and not losing the culture you might’ve experienced without its influence.

As always, we’d also recommend having appropriate beta-readers take a look at your story for sensitivity and accuracy.

~Mod Colette

P.S. Based on some responses defending colorblindness as a good thing, which it’s not and is in fact racist (!) I would urge you to research the harms of the colorblind approach and learn of the huge disservice it is to People of Color to ignore the beauty that is diversity and in recognizing cultural differences.

PSA: “Seeing color” isn’t the same as “judging color.” 

Won’t dwell on it here. I do want to quote mod Brei from a different ask

Colorblindness is an act of racism by denying to acknowledge differences. I mean, no one ever says “I don’t see gender” so why apply such ignorance to race?