Thursday, August 12, 2010

Yes, Black people go on vacation

Black people and vacations

There’s been a lot of chatter about First Lady Michelle Obama’s summer trip to Spain.

She’s the first lady of the United States, but apparently some people think her vacation in Spain was inappropriate. If you haven’t heard about this, catch up with the news coverage.
For Michelle Obama, extravagance dents popularity

Michelle Obama's Spain trip: the real reason she went

This evening I read Lori Tharps’ post about Spain, the State Department’s advisory to Black people about travel there, and the first lady. Lori brings an interesting perspective; she’s an African American woman married to a native of Spain. So she travels there to see family. Read her post.

Thinking about the first lady’s trip made me remember something a girl said to me over 20 years ago. This girl, who was under age 10, was in our house (I was a teenager) because her father had come over to talk to my dad about something. Naturally her dad assumed I would watch her, without asking first. That was the first annoying thing. They were our neighbors, but not our friends.

So while I was watching this girl, who I had never actually met before, she tells me about their vacation to Hawaii. And she is just chattering away while I wait for the men to finish.

Then she says, “Black people don’t go on vacation. My dad says it’s because they don’t have enough money.”

I was a little stunned by that. But not so stunned that I didn’t try to explain that Black people have money and do go on vacation.

When they left I talked to my father about what she said. I was pretty angry about it and definitely wanted him to know. I believed that she was young enough to still just report what she’d heard, not make up something to be provocative.

It was ridiculous that a man living in our same neighborhood would say such a thing. And it was just a little thing on one level. I mean, who really cares what a guy down the street thinks about all Black people.

On another level it continues to remind me that, even when people of multiple races are in the same neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and things would seem to be close to equal if not truly equal, some people will still assume there is a deficit somewhere. It’s illogical, but telling. It’s the “yeah, but” of integration. The little difference that is falsely inserted to keep some distance, at least in the mind, between “us” and “them” and allow people to hold on to some sliver of superiority.

Tonight I’m thinking through whether that sliver of superiority is what really underlies the backlash against First Lady Michelle Obama’s Spanish vacation. So much of what the Obama family does challenges the image of what some people (thankfully not all) have of Black people, Black families, Black success, Black intelligence, Black love, Black beauty, etc.

If you believe or have been told that Black people are still different than you, in whatever small, insignificant way, maybe it really is inconceivable that even as the Commander in Chief’s wife, Mrs. Obama can and does take vacations.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This post is powerful. I grew up in Alabama and I came across a lot of stupidness with regards to race relations. I always struggled with it because I didn't know if it was my responsiblity as a black person to correct people when they spoke ignorance about my race. Part of me figured that no one thing I could say would change whats been instilled in this person so why waste my time. The other part of me felt like even if I didn't defend all black people, the least I should do is defend myself. I don't know...didn't know then, and I don't know now....