Cultural Connection II

What she wore: hot pink courderoy pants, black turtleneck, black snow boots.  No comments.

As I have explained before, I work at a school that is 85% African American.  For me, this is the largest exposure I’ve had to people of a different race on a regular basis.  I’ve discussed the language difference before, and today I’m going to talk about a few other diffferences I’ve noticed–I’m not saying these are universal–they’re just what I see at my work.
  1. African Americans dress differently that white people.  They have very different ideas about fashion.  African Americans place a very high value on matching–socks, shoes, purse, whatever.  If it matches, this will garner you extra points in the fashion zone.  White people like to coordinate–if you’re wearing earth tones, wear brown shoes; if you’re wearing dark colors, wear black shoes.  I’ve noticed that white people are more likely to throw a wrench in the mix–they’ll wear a plain outfit and then have on brightly colored shoes, or a funky purse–African Americans just can’t handle this.  They think this is just bad fashion. 
  2. African Americans are sharply attuned to skin color and it’s many variations.  Being "light-skinned" is an asset.  As a certified white girl, we work hard to not look pasty.  For African Americans, it’s the opposite.  The first time Mr. K heard the term "light-skinned" he was totally confused.  But, as we examined things, we noticed that the light-skinned girls were the most popular.  I struggle to notice the exact shade of a person’s skin–I still do the cursory Caucasian assesment: black, white, Asian, or Hispanic.  After that, I’m not getting out a paper bag and doing comparisons. 
  3. African Americans have an much drier dermis than people with lighter skin.  When a black person has dry skin it turns a hazy white and this is called "ashy."  Being ashy is a cultural no-no.  Kids will tease each other if they are ashy.  A child will not be able to concentrate if they’re ashy and will actually complain of pain sometimes if their skin is too dry.  For this reason, almost every teacher on my team keeps lotion in their desk.  An African American is your best source of knowledge if you’re having trouble with dry skin.  A teacher I work with will actually put Vaseline on her kids in the winter.  When I first started working at the this school, I commented on the kids’ obsession with lotion to the Assistant Principal, and she said, "oh, you wouldn’t understand–it’s a black thing."

This isn’t supposed to be offensive–if you’re seeing red because of my blatant placement of people into groups by race, then please don’t be.  I realize there are exceptions to everything I’m stating here, and I’m simply commenting on trends–not hard, fast facts–this is a blog, not a newspaper.




About takedeux

In one summer I had a baby who was hospitalized for five weeks, quit my job, and moved back to my hometown. This blog is about starting over.
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19 Responses to Cultural Connection II

  1. Unknown says:

    Hey, I thought it was interesting. I love it when Oprah does shows on the differences between us.
    They spend a fortune on their hair, we spend a lot less in the tanning salons….
    How do little girls wear their hair? I babysat a friends kids once, they spent the night, and when mom came the next day the little girl whispered to her mom "She doesn\’t have any grease for my hair"
    The little cuties never even asked me, I could of found something or we could have run to the corner store…. But she never said a word.

  2. russ says:

    In my job, about half my employees are African American. I actually showed them your entry and they agreed with it all..
    So… Great entry!!

  3. Laura says:

    I like your disclaimer… this is a blog, not a newspaper…
    I have noticed the matching. I see alot of black guys who like to wear red/white shoes AND socks AND jersey all matching. I am lucky if I can get my husband to wear black shoes with his navy blue suit… he is aware of his shortcomings with fashion, though. He will wake me up at 5:30 AM when he is getting ready just to ask me if what he is wearing matches… It all looks the same through my sleep crusted eyes!

  4. Laura says:

    Oh, and one more thing… no comments on the hot pink pants??? Sounds like something I would wear! To fit in at your school, you needed hot pink snow boots, too.

  5. Dennis says:

    I could have 77,000 comments and I would still make time for you. Just say the word and I am here for you.  Now let me jump in on this excellent cultural revelation of yours.
    The whole light skin vs. dark skin and all the shades between emanate from days of slavery.  The lighter skin slaves were often times fathered by the Slave owners.  And they were given positions \’inside\’ the plantation home.  They carried the distinction of being "House nigg#s."  This was a position of hiearchy amongst the rest of the slave population.This does not mean all slaves working in the house were light.  But those fathered by the master were treated far better.  Thus a class distinction within a class…. are you with me here?
    Curtis Mayfield once had a song with compelling lyrics dealing with color among us blacks during the movement days of the 70"s.  An excerpt from the song went like this: "High yellow girl (light skin) don\’t you know that you are just the surface of our dark deep well?"  High yellow is another term we use in the black community that means light skin.
    Matching colors is definitely a trademark of our culture.  But keep in mind we can also come out with some outrageously brilliant colors to wear.  There is some colloquial play in regards to fashion.  So what you might see in Arkansas among blacks, you wont necessarily see among Michigan blacks.
    Now ash is an issue that has plagued all us black folk.  And is is a condition that has no other cure than some good old lotion.  The vaseline treatment is usually reserved for severe ash conditions.  I remember my mother making us apply heavy layers of vaseline on our elbows and knees then wrap a sock around the applied area. We would sleep with this deep penetrating wrap on our joints.  It aided in keeping these areas soft and smooth. It also prevented our elbows and knees from being a darker brown than the rest of our bodies.  Pay attention to the elbows and see if you notice some that are much darker than the rest of the skin.
    Lawd, I feel like I have written a how to be black book on your space.  Your observations are on the money.  And I am not the least be offended by any of this.  You see the one thing about you that makes this perfectly innnocent is your heart.  You can not hide a good heart.  Just like you can\’t hide a bad one.  Your heart is pure KM and thus I can be free to share with you.  You are what we call "good people."
    If this school is your first foray into being around different cultures, where in the hell did you come from?  You are doing exceptionally well for no prior experience or exposure.
    Do you think we could do the email thing?  My addy is noted on my blog as well as this post. 

  6. Kelly says:

    This is the only blog entry I\’ve read tonight that could bring me out of lurk mode. I\’m taking a break from studying…ggggrrrr…. don\’t get me started.

    Let me give my man EZ a thumbs up on all counts. He explained everything just the way I would have.

    Something to which I could speak extensively (but I won\’t – not here) is of being the \’high yellow sista\’. There were a lot, and I mean a lot, of fights started with me as a kid because the Mexican and Black girls thought that I thought I was better than they were because I have green eyes and "good hair", but I wanted no part of it. If I got into a fight, they always went for the hair first. Every time. It became a point of contention when I got my first relaxer and could move my hair. If I pulled it out of my collar, they said I was showing off. If I got cornrows, they said I wasn\’t black enough.

    Sometimes, you can\’t win.

    Sitting on the fence, so to speak, hasn\’t always been a place I\’m comfortable being, but as an adult, I wouldn\’t have it any other way. You are dead on in your comments and all I can say is this (albeit tongue in cheek): you\’ve heard comments from whites, blacks, and now a mulatto. We all agree with your assertions. If it weren\’t for the marked (that\’s the 2-syllable word – HA) differences between cultures and a respect for each of them by first noting the contrast, then the comparisons aren\’t nearly as impacting.

    You\’ve noticed the differences. Now, what are the similarities? Aahhhhh – too many to count.

  7. Tracy says:

    Wow it must be interesting to work at a school where you are the minority! To answer your question about A and the beer money — no that is coming out of his money; our finances are together for the most part like bills and stuff – but separate for "fun" money – so basically as long as he gives me the agreed-upon money for bills, he can spend the rest however he wants!

  8. Nadine says:

    You have a keen eye for observation!
    And I have no problems with pink pants!!

  9. Cheryl says:

    I work with 50% black women and children.  They are in residential care and there is much racism among them.  You are right about the dry skin problem and the color tones of their skin.  For the darker women they are referred to in terms that if you or I said them we would have a lawsuit against us.  Lighter skinned babies are treated much kinder and when donations come in I have seen the women with darker babies actually give up the pretty clothes so the light skinned baby could be presented better.

  10. Alicia says:

    Well, I learned something new today, Katy!  I never knew any of this…thanks!  🙂

  11. Carol says:

    I never knew about the differing fashion sense or the light skin/dark skin thing.  Thanks for teaching me something new.

  12. Dena Marie says:

    Hey, KM. I agree with EZ… these are very good observations for a first experience. And mostly this entry made me realize how much experience I got with African American culture in my younger years because I\’ve been aware of these observations for a very long time. The African American/Caucasian ratio in my school system was about 50-50, but the experience I *didn\’t* get was with other races besides these two. Your entry has opened my eyes to my ignorance to these other races (i.e. Asian, Mexican, etc.), so I\’d be very interested to hear observations about them as well. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  13. Elizabeth says:

    This was a great entry, and I was fascinated reading all the other comments.

  14. Sue says:

    I have one daughter who is half black which means she is \’light skinned with great hair\’.  The black girls hated her, the hispanic girls hated her, and the caucasian girls saw her some sort of novelty it seemed.  The poor girl has the ashiest skin I\’ve seen. LOL.  We own stock in her lotion.  Her fashion sense tends to be in between cultures.  Rather odd, but then she is a wacky gal.  Your observations seem to be on target.  Glad I slipped in for a peek.  I\’ll be back.

  15. A says:

    Hardly offensive …..Have you also heard the saying "Everyone wants to be Black, But no one wats to be Black" makes ya think. Take care and i\’ll keep and eye on your space as teaching is my goal.

  16. Christine says:

    I was a school nurse for 7 years.  The children of color would look "ashy" when they were sick, too.  It is an apt description of the appearance their skin gets.

  17. Carine says:

    O.K. here\’s something new: I\’m not considered White, Black, asian or hispanic. I normally fall under "other" because  I\’m from Brazil. And Brazilian\’s are not considered Latino. though it\’s South America. Interesting huh? My complexion is sorta light skinned. but, you can tell I\’m not black.
    – C

  18. Unknown says:

    Man, that is some funny stuff!  I get it, because all my students are Hispanic, and the lotion is on my desk too.  I keep two or three kinds even.  We have plain, scented, with sparkles, without sparkles, and the fruity kind.
    Actually, as  a teacher, I know that you are just saying what you see. That is fine!  If more people relied on their common sense, life would be a lot easier to navigate!

  19. Unknown says:

    I like you.
    This is so entertaining. As a young african american girl myself, I can relate to your experience. It\’s not offensive in any way.

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