Sunday, April 1, 2012

Racial Tensions in Roommates & Mamle Kabu

A roommate situation is supposed to be like this. So why (when black and white are together) does it many times end up like this?

Charm School. Of course there's fighting on this smut show.
In Mamle Kabu's short story Human Mathematics, the main character Claudia watches as her black/Ghanian roommate hits her white roommate because the white girl had put the trash on Ghanian's bed, a sign that said to Ghanian she was no better than trash. It was all a misunderstanding and Claudia ends up caught in between the two. She's friends with both girls. She's also half-Ghanian and half-white.

Before her friends are suspended, Claudia desperately wants to ask Folake, the Ghanian, why she had lived up to the stereotype. Folake responds that she's not normally violent but that she must have her dignity too.

I can't say how many times I've encountered a similar situation. Normally, I look down on those folk who act niggerish, who throw fists at the scuff of a shoe instead of talking it out or letting it go. I've never resorted to fists, but lately I have gotten close.

After a particularly rough disagreement with a white acquaintance of mine (who I found was a tad ignorant), I had a dream that I called her some rather nasty bunch of names before striking her in the face.

Even after I woke up, I felt really good about my actions, and I wondered if I was really better than the stereotype. I can't say. Like Folake, there's something to be said for dignity especially when it comes to race.

When it comes to housing arrangements, it is illegal to base them on race. However, I must say I would have rather lived with black girls or someone that "got" me when I dormed in college. My first year was awful. I had nothing in common with my white, native PA, highly Catholic roommates.

My dorm house, the Dechantal.
We had nine girls in one suite, three girls to one small room.
They always hung out together, and though I was never asked to leave, I never felt welcome to bond with them. I felt like I couldn't even study in my own room. They thought less of me because I had sex (even though it was only with my long-time boyfriend). I found out they had spread false rumors about my sexual habits. They didn't like me because I wasn't Republican (and it was the year of the 2008 elections). Even though we were in the same major and honors society, they wouldn't study with me. I felt like they thought I was inferior.

The girls, especially one, would speak to me condescendingly and give me cutting looks. She'd move my things around (on my own desk) because I wasn't neat enough. I didn't know how to handle it. When people had a problem with me, I was used to them just getting in my face about it. I did not like this new approach, which I affectionately termed the "undercover bitch" approach.

I would visit other friends dorms, friends from foreign countries and other backgrounds, where I fit in better. I found that "undercover bitches" applied more to white people than minorities. Even though it wouldn't have been lawful to put me with them just because of my race, I wished they had. Maybe even if they paired me with someone else from Maryland would have worked.

Though I never did break one those two roommates, I felt like I was losing my dignity. After that, I resolved never to let someone push me around, not because I was inferior and certainly never in my own house again.

In the end, race and heritage cannot be changed. When someone belittles you for it or believes you to be lesser, there will reach a breaking point. I think the stereotype exists because there is more against the minorities than there are for the Caucasian. And yes, mixed people are looked at as minorities even when we are more white than anything.

For the full short story Human Mathematics, pick up Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience.