Last night Raj, who for the last couple of weeks has been working at the local KFC, brought a bucket of chicken to class. Everyone happily dug in. Everyone but Raj, who says he eats too much chicken every day anyway, and me. I wasn’t particularly hungry and, too, I’m not a big fan of KFC — I tend to be a bit of a fried chicken snob … if it wasn’t cooked by my mother or my aunt, we don’t really have anything to talk about.
Reina kept pushing me to take a piece — “Come on, Miss. You know you want some.” “Miss! Take the chicken.” Finally she put the cherry on top: “Come on, Miss. Everyone knows you people love fried chicken.”
Yeah. “Everyone knows you people love friend chicken.”
I called her on it, but she wasn’t hearing me. “What? Everyone knows that. You ask anyone.” Jeovany (talking around his mouthful of chicken) jumped in. “That’s a stereotype,” he said. “It sounds racist to say something like that.”
It doesn’t only sound racist. We talked about it some. We made a list on the board of some of the other things Reina and anyone else thought were true about black people, and we compared that list to things they’ve learned about me. (Let’s not get started on how ‘not black’ I am if blackness is determined by that list!) We made a list of things ‘everyone’ knows about Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Dominicans, Guyanese … everyone in the room. And we talked about where those ideas came from and how it feels to hear that other people believe a lot of things about you that might not be true.
“So you think I’m racist, Miss?” We’ve had this conversation before, about how she can’t be racist because her girlfriend is black. Although I don’t actually think the latter proves the former, I also don’t think Reina’s a racist … at least, not an ‘on purpose’ racist, you know? I think she’s seeing as true for a whole people what she’s seen as true for the limited number of people she knows. It’s not cool, but it doesn’t come from a place of fear or malice. “No,” I said. “I just think you should think about some of the broad generalizations you make. I think we all should.”
The chicken was finished, everyone took their math exam, class ended and folks packed up and headed home. Reina came to my office before she left. “We’re good, right, Miss?”
“I’m gonna think about what you said, though.” She started to leave then turned back. “Is this like how you hate it when we say ‘ni**ah’ all the time? It hurts your feelings?”
“This is different,” I said, “but both make me sad.”
She nodded. “Ok, I’m gonna think about it.” She laughed. “Sometimes, you give me a headache with the things you make me think about, you know that?” Valerie yelled up the stairs for her to get moving, so she turned to leave. “See you Tuesday. Stay cool, Miss.”
Still so much work to do, but it’s good to know I’m still ‘cool’ even though our conversation made her uncomfortable. Here’s hoping Reina gets a headache over the weekend. I’m curious to see what she says Tuesday: Raj is bringing another bucket of chicken for our end-of-term party …