Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Kind of People

Meltingpot Readers,

When I was a senior in college, one of my closest friends shocked the snot out of me when she informed our little rainbow coalition of friends that despite the fact that she'd only dated non-Korean boys in college, when it came time for marriage she was going to stick to her own kind. Back then I was still wearing my rainbow colored glasses and truly believed that if we all just inter-married and inter-mingled, we'd put an end to racism and bigotry. Oh, I was so naive. But still, I thought my friend was crazy for insisting that despite the fact she often found herself more attracted to men outside of the Asian tribe, she was going for the comfort of her familiar. I remember she said something like, "I don't want to have to explain my culture to anyone and I want my husband to be able to speak to my parents in their own language. It will just be easier."

And sure enough, several years later, after seriously dating an African-American man, my friend married a nice Korean boy and for the most part they are living happily ever after. But somehow I felt betrayed and confused by her choice. If she was happy with someone else, why was she choosing a boy to please her parents. It's taken me a while, but I'm now beginning to get it. It's not racism. It's not bigotry. It's not wrong. It's called comfort. And I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I'm starting to see now in my own life where comfort can definitely trump romance.

Did you know that my parents and el esposo's parents have never met? Well, that's not entirely true. El esposo's mother came to New York City right before we moved to Philadelphia. My parents flew in to meet her. They saw each other for about 45 minutes and their conversation went something like this.
"It's nice to meet you"
"Yes, Yes. Let's eat."


Last night I spent the evening with a Book club that was mostly women "of a certain age," all of them Black. I was only supposed to stay for an hour, but that hour stretched into two hours easy. We talked about my book, Substitute Me, but we also talked about life. And hair. And love. And things that every woman talks about but there was a shared cultural understanding and language and nuance in the conversation that only happens in a room full of Black women. I drove home smiling and content even though there was a pile of work waiting for me at home. Those two hours were so uplifting. I laughed and relaxed and felt comfortable sharing my entire life story to a group of virtual strangers, who somehow didn't feel like strangers. And that's when it hit me that I enjoyed spending time with these women, because they were 'my kind of people.'

Now, here's the tricky part. By saying I enjoyed myself in a special kind of way because all of the women in the room were Black, am I excluding or insulting my non-Black friends? I know I could have an equally uplifting experience in a room full of non-Black women who were in the thirties and had all gone to Smith College, or had all married Spanish men, or who had two sons. Yes, it could be equally uplifting but it wouldn't be the same. How do we reconcile our desire to be clannish with the knowledge that being clannish inherently leaves others out of the game? I honestly don't think there's anything wrong with gathering with others like yourself. It doesn't need to be regulated or anything, but how do you ensure that you're not excluding or hurting other people?

You know I'm listening.



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lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

This is when you create two types of friends:

1. The group you could talk about anything with. Where you don't have to worry about offending people because they naturally understand. You don't feel you have to keep yourself in check.

2. The group of friends that are different and as a result, you steer clear of controversial topics, tend to be more general about stuff, and are often on edge about trying not to offend anyone.

You can still enjoy the company of number 2, but you need number 1 to kind of release some of that pent up energy you get from being around number 2 for too long.

This is really no different from having that group of close friends that you do everything with, and then that group of friends you don't do nearly as much with.

I think it is natural to have a small close group of friends you can be yourself around in a way that you couldn't with others. In fact, you could have various close knit groups. I just think what makes the difference, is one's openness to meeting different people and forming those other close knit groups and so on.

We all label our friends no matter what. When you tell person A a secret, but not person B, you just labeled them right there.

Anonymous said...

ok, so as a youth those in my 'clan' had a tendency to reject me because of my color(i wont tell you what color it is, you will have to guess) well needless to say i was raised around diverse ppl and european culture, and didn't see color, nobody told me. I fell in love with an african man, and other you would think my clannish family would accept this they didn't. I am brown, they are light brown. We are ALL brown. However when in came to "MY KIND" you would have thought i was living in south africa. it is kind of sad, but i know where your friend is coming from, very few have the 'chutzpah' to go against the grain. I didn't have the courage at that time to defy my family or perhaps the love wasn't strong enough, or i wasn't needless to say i am almost became reseigned to choose light brown, because the family issues proved to be too difficult. Some people can do it, my relationship however crumbled because i didn't have the strength to get away from crazy ppl who i have to live with. it is unfortunate but marriage many times is a FAMILY thing, and you have to decide what you want more. your mate or the whole gang. Sometimes you will b forced to choose. IT is so. I think it sucks and im kind of bitter, but you have to decide what is most important to you. i think our clannishness shouldn't keep people out it is WRONG.Peace

Anonymous said...

as for the group, we all are humans and ppl from florida are different from ppl from scotland, it is 'comforting' to b around those like you, only when it isnt keeping you bound. unity is good when it serves a purpose,family agreement etc, but really Heaven is not going to b all the black ppl on this side all the white ppl on this side, c'mon now, we all are family peace. If we acted like it maybe their wouldn't b wars. I think a 11 year could figure that out, they have to be taught to hate, you don't just pop out like that.

Culturatist said...

I like this post. I feel comfortable around anyone that I can be totally honest around. Honest about race, my life, who I hate for no reason, and who I love for no reason. I am black, and one of my dearest friends is Asian. I went to visit her for a week a few months ago, and I told her that I was learning Japanese. She got so irritated about that fact. A few days later, she told me that she did not care for Japanese people. She gave a story, and I was like okay---I get you. I tell you this story, because I totally feel you on being comfortable around 'your kind'. For the oddest reasons, my kinds have always been from all races.

R. said...

Hmm...I must admit I'm a bit surprised that your parents haven't really met your husband's parents. When reading your book, Kinky Gazpacho, I was under the impression that everyone met at your wedding.