Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Black Card

My birthday is this week, and yesterday a card arrived from my in-laws. I opened it, and...it features a black woman, arms akimbo (FYI -- I only recently learned, after years of reading this word and thinking it meant "arms thrown crazily and haphazardly into the air" that it just means HANDS ON HIPS IN THAT SASSY WAY), on the cover. It says, "Girl, look at you - another year young!"


I opened it, pulled it out, and just kind of looked at it. "Babe. Your mom sent me a card with a black lady on it." It seemed weird. I wasn't insulted. I wasn't like, "OMG A BLACK LADY ON MY CARD I DON'T THINK I CAN EVEN ACCEPT THIS!" like some kind of crazed and confused Hunger Games viewer. It just seemed...weird. Sean's mom likely picked out the card, and she's not all hip and post-racial. She just probably wasn't paying that close attention or something. And like I said, I wasn't offended. I was just...

Driving home from work today, it struck me. It struck me as weird because I've never really even seen a card with a black person on it. As I've said many times when pontificating about privilege, white is the standard. The default. People on greeting cards are white. How many black people have opened birthday cards with white people on them? Probably a lot. I'm not saying that receiving this card shows me how black people must feel. I can't even really tell you what I feel other than weird. Do I feel othered? Can I not relate to this person on the card because she doesn't look like me? I don't feel weird in that way. Again, though, it definitely got me thinking about the nature of race in everyday life. I hadn't really thought about there being no black people on most of the greeting cards I've seen until now, and this situation brings this out of the nebulous world of concepts and right into my lap.

The text is so cliche. "Girl, look at you." Girl. All black women refer to each other as girl. And when you read it out loud, you have to speak in Sassy Black Lady voice. You know. "Gurrrrrrl." This card -- this card that my mother-in-law just threw into her shopping cart -- is heavy with cultural meaning. And what does it mean that I can't receive a b-day card with a black lady and a possibly slightly racially insensitive slogan on it without just going, "Sweet! Money!" and going about my business?

It's like someone sent me a reminder of my racial privilege with a gift card shoved inside. Happy birthday!

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