Did They Really Just Say That?; Micro-Analysis of Interations By: Elyssa Feliciano ’12
Did They Really Just Say That?!?
Growing up in a predominantly white area has greatly influenced the way I perceive the caucasian culture. For a long time, I considered myself to be white despite my most blatantly not white outward appearance. My speech and the manner in which I carry myself might be considered “white” by society and after growing up where I have, I didn’t have much exposure to other cultures or other forms of speech. The only experience I had was with my own extended family with whom I often felt like an outsider with. It wasn’t until I came to Stonehill College and got involved with the Intercultural Affairs Office that I embraced my ethnicity and took ownership of it. I learned to finally deal accept the challenges and nuances that come with being a “white” Latina.
Many people have always told me I have a unique look, which is their nice way of saying I look racially or ethnically ambiguous. I tend to get a lot of “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” from people I meet. I have realized that the reason why people ask me about my ethnicity is perhaps I don’t fit the “norms” or the stereotypes of my culture. I am a proud Latina woman but unfortunately no one can seem to tell just by looking at me.
Further, my racially ambiguous appearance is the reason why I have been exposed to language that can be categorized as everyday usage of white racism. People tend to not be as politically correct around me because they forget that I’m not white no matter how much I may act like it. Sure people may not come right out and say something blatantly racist, but often times I experience or witness some type of inadvertent remark that leaves me feeling uncomfortable. One such example occurred here at Stonehill one Saturday night in my sophomore year.
I was outside of the Colonial Courts standing with an acquaintance with whom I hadn’t spoken to in awhile when one of our mutual friends walked by. We were talking about how attractive he was when all of sudden she said, “He would be a lot cuter if he didn’t have that Spic stache [mustache].” My initial reaction was one of surprise. I could not believe she had just said that in front of me. Not only was it an offensive word in general but, didn’t she know I was Hispanic? I had so many questions going through my mind but when it came time to react I just laughed and agreed with her. To this day I am still upset with myself over the fact that I never brought her attention to how offensive I thought her comment was. I just laughed it off and chalked it up to her being ignorant and not knowing that I personally identified as a Latina and that I would find that word offensive. But the fact that I brushed it off and tried not to think much about it just goes to show how engrained the language of White racism is in our society.
The fact that she used that word in front of me could means two things. First, she honestly did not know that I was Hispanic and said it as a joke figuring it would make me laugh. The second option is that she did know my ethnicity and said it anyway because she didn’t think the word was offensive. The common factor in these two options however, is the fact that she had no qualms in using the word. If she used it as a necessary component of the joke then she fits the description of White Americans that find slurs an object of fascination (50). In the Everyday Language of White Racism, Jane Hill references Allen’s Unkind Words when discussing the American fascination with slurs. Allen asserts that “American slang is among the most elaborate, fanciful, and colorful in the world”(50). Hill goes on to say that that claim “makes clear that Allen, at the same time that he condemns slurs and epithets, takes pleasure in them as a sign of richness of “American” imagination”(50). The interesting thing about slurs is that no matter how offensive people may find them, they still make their way into common language through joking and other forms of witty talk. Hill acknowledges the fact that many people enjoy the use of slurs in humorous talk and text and most people can appreciate “the poetics of a skillful string of slurs”(50). Perhaps my friend thought I fit into this category of people.
While I found the use of the slur to be rude I did not take too much offense to it because she was not using the slur against me. I told myself that she used the word to emphasize the ridiculousness of our white friend having a mustache that is notoriously seen on men of Hispanic descent. I have certainly been desensitized to the use of slurs and epithets in humorous talk. It does not bother me that much when I know the intent is to make me laugh. I realize however, that I may be a minority in this way of thinking.
Most of my friends of color do not find the use of slurs in humorous talk and text to actually be funny. The question I must then ask, is why do I? After reading The Everyday Language of White Racism and reflecting on the situations I have been in, I realize that I perpetuate the White racism Hill discusses throughout the book with my silence. I tend to not speak up when something is offensive because I am either used to it, or it is one of my friends saying it and I do not want to embarrass them by calling them out on the offensive nature of their speech.
The fact that I have been desensitized to “covert racist speech” or even outright racist speech occurred to me after I read the text and saw the presentation on Mock Spanish. I remember thinking, “ Wow, some of these are examples are considered offensive? Should these things offend me? What’s wrong with me?” The class discussion about the chapter that ensued certainly hit home the fact that I do not notice or recognize this kind of speech as racist. Mock Spanish has never offended me even though most of family are native speakers. In fact, after seeing the examples the author used in the book I realized that I used Mock Spanish rather frequently. A question that arose but did not dare to ask was, “Is it Mock Spanish when a non-native but Latina speaker uses it?” In other words, would it still be Mock Spanish if I said something? I did not dare say anything in class especially since there were other students that also identify as Latina. But I realized that perhaps my “identity crisis” has caused me to adopt these unintentional characteristics of everyday white racism.
The truth is that by dismissing the use of slurs because the person is my friend trying to be humorous I perpetuate white racism. I know this is something that my friends of color would find very disheartening. In fact, a lot of my white friends found it horrible as well, but there were a select few who waited to see my reaction before reacting to what I told them. If I told them and seemed visibly upset by it then they would respond with the usual “I can’t believe she said that.” But there were a few that would respond with that response while laughing at the same time. Those types of reactions contribute to my understanding of the incident as nothing to be too offended about because she was obviously just trying to make a joke. But as I reflect, I realize that even if she was just joking that that kind of language is just unacceptable.
Through these experiences and reflections, I have been made more aware of how inappropriate these incidents are. I rethink these moments continuously looking for when I began to feel hurt and offended. When the racial slur first came out of my friend’s mouth it did hurt, even though the word was not directed at me. It hurt because I knew she was not just saying it to make the joke. She has obviously used that word in the past and I think that is what bothers me the most. There I was thinking that no one even uses that word anymore, and all of a sudden I realize that it is still very much a part of everyday language. In this sense, my classroom knowledge has been somewhat cathartic because it has allowed me to reflect on the situation and approach it from several angles. And each angle has shown that when I experience these glimpses of racism through speech, it is normal for me to be offended and that I should acknowledge that there is no excuse or intention to help me laugh about it. Never again will I allow such speech to be used in my presence because if I cannot speak up in my own defense, who will?