Last week I went to the ritzy coffee shop near the center of san cristobal and hung out for two days drinking coffee and using the wifi. The third day my partner and babe were with me. he ordered coffee and she smiled at him and the babe in his rebozo (babywrap). Which was a little surprising because she had been short with me before they had arrived, but I figured who can resist such a cute baby? When she came back with the coffee she asked him: is that her baby? Pointing to me. He answers : this is our baby. A couple of raised eyebrows staring at her backside as she walks away.
When she comes back she asks my partner another question about me. I say to her: I can speak. She looks at my partner giggles and says: can she speak?
Okay. It was time to get the check and get the fuck out of there.
This weekend I got a series of boys yelling ‘negra’ out of their cars at me. It was as if I was back in Palestine.
Also this weekend, a friend and I were having juice, when she pointed out that the multigenerational family behind us were staring. I hadn’t even noticed. Guess some things you get used to.
Then today, my partner comes home from the taco restaurant, telling me a delicious story of the woman who works there. She has been unusually friendly to us the past couple of times we have gone. Before she was normally surly, casting hidden evil looks. And today she asked him if the woman he normally comes in with was his wife. To which he answered: yes. And then she said that the mix had turned out well. Our daughter was very light.
And to think my Spanish teacher told me there was no racism in mexico.
Some weeks are just hard.
This week reminds me of being in the west bank. And attempting to explain to a Palestinian friend that racism and colorism wasn’t better in the states but I was more used to the stateside system and manifestations and knew how to respond better.
The first time I came to southern mexico, I met a great us journalist living in Oaxaca and writing about the indigenous resistance. She told me that once she had shown a video to a group of indigenous fishermen of how black (from the Atlantic Coast) Honduran fishermen had resisted some onslaught of economic globalization. All the oaxacan fishermen could focus on was the fact that the fishermen in the video were black. She had to stop the video after a couple of minutes and decided she couldn’t use that video anymore. She says to me: I don’t know how I would do this work if I was black.
On one level, I forget that I look African. Even though I am from the states. Northerners are quick to point out that I have passport privilege (just like them), and that is very true. An American passport and African skin. People treat me like I am a us citizen (after I tell them I am one), but not like I am white. And African skin is not very common here.
I forget that I look African. I am used to being black. I was born in washington dc and have only spent three months on the continent of Africa. Rarely in the States does anyone think I was born in Africa.
Maybe if I started saying that I was from Africa when people ask (which they do…often…I mean that’s just being a foreigner) I would not experience such a shock when they see me as such.
On another level, internalized white supremacy is hard at work here in mexico as it is nearly everywhere in the world. Doesn’t ‘internalized white supremacy’ sound so abstract? So critical cultural worker theoretical? Not to mention the white Mexicans. Like the taco stand lady. She must be so proud of her own clear white skin.
The first day we arrived in san cristobal, I was eating breakfast in a little shop and saw a television commercial for skin whitener cream. I haven’t really seen a television since.
A couple of weeks ago, while we were having drinks with the neighbors, the husband called me ‘negrita’, and the wife pulled him into the kitchen for a little talking to. And then she gifted me a shirt, that I had once complimented her on, it says: permiteme que te ignore. Allow me to ignore you.