Learning About Race the Hard Way

By: Brad Manock

         race   Parents will usually talk to their kids at some point about sex, also known as “the talk.” But they never talk about race, they do not discuss how other people have different skin colors and different cultures and how you are expected to act around these different people. Long story short, I thought “black people” and “Mexicans” were the exact same thing until I was a freshman in high school, 14 years old. How did this happen? How did I find out the truth? That is what I will be discussing in this article.

 

History Class

            While growing up you learn about two races in history class. You learn about “white people” and “black people.” You learn about slavery, segregation and not much else regarding race. I grew up in a town with exactly two races: white people and Mexicans. The town had a very low population, my graduating class at high school was 34 people. No Asians, and no real black people. So while sitting in history class I looked at my Mexican class mates and though “ok, those must be the black people.” At this point I had already known that these kids were of Mexican descent so that established the link in my mind that “black people=Mexicans.”

 

Wait, That Doesn’t Make Sense

            I went through most of my childhood without ever even suspecting that I had some incorrect assumptions. It wasn’t until I was about 13 and began being interested in stand-up comedy. I would watch the comedians on TV telling racial jokes. They would mention how black people liked basketball and fried chicken. I would think “no they don’t, they like tacos and soccer.” So at that point I thought something was unusual. Mexicans were usually more athletic than the white kids at my school at least that was the case up to about the start of high school. So I though any sports reference regarding black people made sense in the context of my own incorrect information.

 

Spanish Culture Class

            In high school I was required to take two years of a foreign language if I wanted to get into a good college. I took “Spanish Culture” class even though it did not involve the actual Spanish language at all. I took it because I had hoped I found a loophole even though it ended up not counting towards that particular requirement.

            During the Spanish culture class we had to do a project and a presentation about a famous or influential Mexican throughout history. As soon as the details of the project had been explained to the class I blurted out “I will do mine on Martin Luther King!” I did this because I felt it was the most obvious person to do the project on and I did not want anyone else to claim that person. The class looked at me with an odd a judgmental look, not an unusual thing to happen to me during high school. Someone said “Martin Luther King is black.” I still didn’t quite understand because the “black people=Mexicans” rule was still recognized as fact in my own mind. Then finally someone said straight up, “black people and Mexicans are not the same thing.” This is the moment when I realized how much of an asshole I must have looked like. If only I had been told the simple fact that black people and Mexicans are not the same, that whole awkward scene could have been prevented. I ended up doing my project on Carlos Mencia by the way, I guess it was because I felt like a “de-de-de.”

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