Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Touch your own mug, and other muddled thoughts on race

Maybe I'm saying something, but most likely it isn't anything. Proceed.

So my awesomely rad sister some years ago bought me a sloganed mug that has been a fave of mine ever since. It is now missing and I have decided to accept that it is now gone. RIP mug - you were loved and will be missed. And the slogan on the mug?

Touch your own hair.

I giggle just thinking about it, but it hasn't really been that well received. At one place I worked, a woman indignantly hissed, "What does that mean?" With that one question, it is clear that I was working in the UK when this question was asked, as I cannot imagine any American not understanding the meaning. The context is completely lost here.

Erm, how *do* I explain the often uneasy relationship in the US between Blacks and the predominant culture (i.e., white folks) that this mug satarises so succiently? Is it possible for me to express the audacity, radicalness, and sheer uppity-ness of the message? It's not that I'm unwilling or unable. I have no problem with making full use of audacity and I take particular advantage of my unique multi-cultural, multi-national personal make-up within this largely homogeneous society in which I currently live. And Scotland is a rare homogeneous society, cos there are large swathes of people here who actually like when others are a bit unusual and even provocative. In fact, it is to be expected of you. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but there is no worse insult than for someone to have bad craic. So yes, I have randomly and ironically accused people of being racist for doing unracist things.* So going back to the mug (and perhaps my weird craic), the problem is that context cannot be effectively established without a 9-hour PowerPoint presentation with diagrams and flow charts. Like Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, only going on about race.

So back to skewed context. It was 0330 on Sunday morning and I was in a pie shop in west end Edinburgh. To give you even more context, I was coming from a night out and was wearing a pair of red hotpants (over a pair of tights/stockings - get real thinking my thighs would have it any orher way). Not to be too up my own self, but my bodacious bum was on fine show. I have an ass that makes it clear to most Black people in America, even with my odd colouring, that I am in fact one of them.

One of the guys I knew and was with at the shop was winding up two random girls. "They're racist! They're saying you have a big black bum! Did you hear them?" The girls were dead offended and wanted to batter my pal for my sake, not realising I knew the dickhead.

Finally, I spoke. "Stop talking about my bum," I said. "I know you're all obsessed with my bum cos it's amazing. You all wanna get with it. You wanna get with it, then go back to your white women after having your black girl with a big bum!"

Some of the people in the pie shop looked back at me, dumbfounded. Most were too drunk to take notice of my tirade. I guess dropping a little bit of radical (and womanist) Alice Walker philosophy at half past three on a Sunday morning in Edinburgh, Scotland is a bit much.

* Well, I should clarify: it's ironic to me. It is probably distressing and not at all ironic to have some brown girl to go up to you and shout, "Racist!" when you're queuing in a Poundland.

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Blogger Lorna and Iain said...

you are a lunatic - what pie shop were you in????? Once again, I wish I'd been there.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 03:16:00 BST  
Blogger Autumn said...

The place is down Morrison Street, heading toward Haymarket - so outta my way. The chicken curry pie is really yummy.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 07:56:00 BST  
Blogger Autumn said...

And I too wish you were there. It was the day I tweeted about seeing the sun rising over our fair Leith. When I could see the dawn breaking, I thought, "I wish Macca was here with me. She's the only one who really appreciate this." Of course you'd probably be bubbling too cos you're an emotional one! Leither 4 Life!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011 at 08:00:00 BST  
Anonymous Zandra Towns said...

I think many people on both sides of the pond misunderstand the slogan. Most, I think, just don't have the exposure to ethnic cultures to have the understanding and sense of irony to get the slogan.
In one sentence, it refers to the frustration and exasperation that comes with people touching your hair (most times with out asking) to 1)find out, yes, it is soft and does not feel like a brilo pad, and 2)ask questions about my daily grooming habits.
Granted people normaly wait until they are at least friendly aquaintances before doing this and I try to turn it in to a "teachable moment" about race and race relations but yeah it's still...tedious.
This happened to me not to long ago but the person touching my hair was an African co-worker. My mixed hair intriqued her I guess.

Thursday, 19 May 2011 at 01:38:00 BST  
Blogger Autumn said...

In my experience, Africans are generally intrigued by Black Americans in a way that is not too dissimilar to white folks. When I first arrived, I went to a salon to get my hair cut. A younger woman and older woman were in there, the latter cutting my hair. The younger one spent all her time peppering me about Black American life. "Do you really eat watermelon and fried chicken?" was one of her legitimate queries.

Thursday, 19 May 2011 at 08:22:00 BST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bwahahaha! [scene in shop] i heart this post. and yer truly bodacious bum

Wednesday, 25 May 2011 at 04:04:00 BST  

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