My Black & White Life
April 22, 2009

The older I get, and the more I set my sights on starting a family, the more reflective I am on how our cultural and spiritual upbringings affect the core of who we are. While I believe that our spiritual upbringing (or lack thereof) is probably the most foundational aspect we receive from our families, I think culture plays a significant part as well. Take corporal punishment, for example. The largest contingency of spankers in America is likely the Christians and for obvious (to me) reasons. The second largest contingency of spankers likely consists of people of color. I know many African American families who are not Christians, but do spank their children. Ambra's theory is this: if you live in a America and you are not considered a person of color or not a Christian, nine times out of ten you probably don't believe in spanking. I could be totally wrong. We'll never know now will we?

I use that little scenario to illustrate a simple point. As an African American I can wholeheartedly say that black families often raise their children very differently than "White" Americans. I realize this isn't a white and black world, but in many ways both literally and figuratively, I believe "black" and "white" represent two different extremes and I shall use them for the sake of convenience. All my brethren of color, feel free to use my logic as a template for your own culture.

There was a time in my life, however brief, when I thought I was a white kid. It was a fleeting thought and it almost got me killed. When I was ten years-old, my mother made me mad and in an attempt to manipulate her, I threatened to run away. I'd seen many of my friends from school use this tactic and it worked on most of the sitcoms (except the Cosby Show) so I figured I'd give it a shot. I wholeheartedly expected to receive some serious ministering to my backside, but my mother decided to run psychological warfare on me. Given this expectation, you can imagine my chagrin when my mother responded to my threat with, "Fine by me; just don't take anything you didn't buy."

Don't take anything I didn't buy? Wasn't expecting that one. I thought, where on earth did this woman come up with these snappy retorts? As a child growing up, there were times I seriously considered surrendering my uterus to the authorities for fear I'd never be able to match the ingenious rejoinders my mother pulled out of thin air. Surely my children would suffer from my lack of brilliance.

The next hour was agony as I tore apart every crevice of my room, searching for something, anything I'd purchased with my own money. After rifling through every drawer, sadly, I came up short. My clothes, books, and personal items all laid claim to the same financier: my loving parents. After digging a bit further into my messy closet, the one thing I managed to find was a pathetic-looking pink clay jewelry box with green flowers painted along the sides. It was one of the better pieces among the graveyard of my overambitious school art class projects. There was a time I could’ve sworn I'd be launching my own Plazgraff collection and no one could tell me otherwise. It is a sad day anywhere when you are running away to live on your own and all you have to your name is a poorly constructed piece of pottery. (Coincidentally, this reality would repeat itself twelve years later when I moved out on my own for real.) The four walls of the jewelry box were kind of lumpy and the handled top I made shrunk in the kiln so it didn't exactly fit perfectly. It was ugly and not well constructed, but in that moment, it was the most beautiful thing I owned.

I stuffed a few useless knickknacks into my precious jewelry box--some Bonne Bell lip gloss given to me by a friend and a few sticks of gum. It was summer so I didn't need a jacket. On my way out the door I bid farewell to my mother. I didn't bother waking my father from his nap to say goodbye. This was all a ritual I thought, and any moment my mother was going to beg me not to leave. I journeyed outside about fifty yards from our home and found a spot where the grass and the sidewalk meet. Just me and my ugly jewelry box there sitting on the curb. A few neighborhood friends in our predominately black neighborhood were out riding their bikes. They came and sat and commiserated with me. I told them my story of escape from the evil dictator formerly known as my mother. In many ways I was their hero. I'd done the unthinkable and managed to come out without unscathed.

After a good hour of watching blades of grass grow, it was clear that my mother called my bluff. Clearly I hadn't thought this one through and found myself missing home more than home missed me. I packed up my pride (and my jewelry box) and headed back to the house. Standing at my parent's doorstep with my tail between my legs, I regrettably rang the door bell. As if I were a turkey whose thermometer button just popped out, my mother looked pleasantly expectant to see me. I apologized to her and was banished to my bedroom to "think about" what I'd done. I never appreciated my parents as much as I did that day. As I headed up the stairs, my mom called out behind me,

"Oh and by the way…that jewelry box? You made that at your expensive private school. We paid for that too!"

Right then I knew I was officially indigent. That was the first and last time I ever ran away. That type of behavior might've worked in other households, but my mother wasn't having it.

I spent my entire life in uppity, predominately white, private schools. From preschool to college I was always one of the few chocolate chips in a big ol' bucket of milk. I am forever grateful to my parents for rooting me in all things African American. My mother would consistently remind me, "I don't know how it is at your white friends' houses, but in THIS house we don't play that." My parents raised us in a modest, middle class, predominately black community chalk full of extra-curricular activites. If nothing else, I'm certain my neighborhood and church community is was saved my proverbial life.

Still, you can understand why the website, Stuff White People Like, totally cracks me the heck up. It's brilliant satire for those who don't take these things too seriously. For me it's even more poignant being that I've literally been surrounded by white people my entire life. If you haven't checked out the website, you definitely should. He updates it regularly with the most recent entry being titled "Hating People Who Wear Ed Hardy." The site rose in popularity early in 2008 and the author of the website, Christian Lander, wrote a book by the same namesake and it's been available in stores for quite awhile. I bought it awhile ago, and surprisingly it's even funnier than the website.

Here are a few of my favorite examples of the 120+ things (and growing) on the list of "Stuff White People Like:

  • #60 Toyota Priuses
  • #62 Knowing What's Best for Poor People
  • #85 The Wire
  • #94 Free Healthcare
  • #69 Mos Def
  • #67 Standing Still at Concerts
  • #17 Hating Their Parents
  • #7 Diversity
  • #6 Organic Food
  • #90 Dinner Parties
  • #82 Hating Corporations
  • #73 Gentrification
  • #14 Having Black Friends
Every item on Lander's list has a full description written about it that's spot on hilarious. Someone else created a hilarious spin off called "Stuff Educated Black People Like" but all the links for it seem to be down.

I laugh at the majority list, but then I see myself in a few items as well. One of the decisions my husband and I made in our first year of marriage was to give up fast food (except Chick-Fil-A) and pop (for you uncultured East coast philistines, that's soda). We also started moving to a shop at more all-natural, organic grocery stores. The change made sense. My only requirement was that I didn't have to give up soul food or barbeque. People still look at us like we're aliens when we darken the doors of Whole Foods. Who's to say black people can't be health-conscious too?

One day this past Winter, Andre and I and our non-television having selves drove in a Toyota Prius up to Vancouver, Canada for the weekend. I sported my new pink and brown Northface All-Weather Jacket and we were grubbin' on our healthy all natural snacks from Whole Foods when it instantly occurred to me: "Oh my gosh, this is a really really white moment." Indeed it was.

I reference the list on the "Stuff White People Like" website for proof: #6 Organic Food, #60 Toyota Priuses, #48 Whole Foods and Grocery Co-ops, #87 Outdoor Performance Clothes, #75 Threatening to Move to Canada, #28 Not Having a TV.

But we're totally hood, I swear.

Posted by Ambra at April 22, 2009 12:01 PM in Books ,Culture ,Race
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I accidentally ran into your site. It is hard work doing a blog on a regular basis, as I have learned, but keep it up! I enjoy what I've read. Great response re Miss USA. And where did you get the cool graphic about "What White People Like"?

I love to read you Ambra, I'm so glad you're back to blogging!

being Christian, white, and engaged to a black woman i've got the trifecta for spanking our future kids
that website is hysterical!

Glad to see you reactivated the blog. I grew up being spanked but I am having conflicting feelings about it. 1) I think violence begets violence and 2) I'm not sure I want my kids to feel the tight boundaries of being in their place. I read a study about upper class kids and they think they own the world b/c their parents have interacted with them in a manner that is about reasoning and thought and decision-making versus knowing their place. But, my white, Christian husband is all about the spanking so we will see how it works out!

I'm glad you are back to blogging, too! Good post.

I kept waiting for wisdom to descend upon me when I became an adult. ha.

I was spanked as a kid---I remember one when I was 18. I always took them personal. Each one of my sons were different---one, all you had to do was look at him, and he repented. He even confessed his sins before doing them. He'd ask, "can I whack my brother?" I think he got one spanking, but I'll have to ask in heaven to see the video. The other two--whoa. And I did not always separate my emotion from the moment. I left most spankings to my husband, but he would not spank until he SAW the crime.

You will make a fine parent. And thanks for sharing.

I agree with Joyce. You'll make great parents. Seattle has been improved with the addition of my two girls,:-) (I'm biased, what're you gonna do about it??) and I expect even more improvement when your kids get out there, too. I was spanked as a kid. I spanked mine when they were younger, but I found that past 6 or 7 it didn't seem as useful. I think because they start responding to reasoning more, after that age. Spanking is best for little kids who can't reason.

I love this site. Happened on it on accident and you are a very talented writer. I must say, however, that based on the few examples of what white people like, the title should be "what white liberals like." Since I am white, but conservative, I absolutely do NOT know what's best for poor people (because I think they know what's best for themselves), I do like Whole Foods but can't shop there because it's so pricey, I do drive a hybrid...for gas savings only! I do NOT want to move to Canada under any circumstances, do NOT want free "health care", do NOT hate corporations, or my parents...I seriously think this list more aptly describes white LIBERALS. There should be a separate list for white conservatives.

and p.s. I spank!

It is quite hilarious to me that for some strange odd reason, discussions on spankings bring folks together :-) Something about that makes me warm and tingly.

Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts on why you do or don't spank. I think spanking is one of those things that is like a metaphor for worldview.

Thanks also for all the welcomes back! Good to see a lot of familiar names in the comments!

M. Fox: You may be on to something. I think the funny think about stuffwhitepeoplelike is that's it's very tongue and cheek and though I think the guy who runs it is pretty liberal, he clearly has his own kind pegged, which is why I think it's great satire. I think a "Stuff White conservatives like" list could be pretty funny as well :-)

James: "The Trifecta" oh that killed me. hilarious.

@elizabeth

The graphic is an image of the book I referenced in the post. Which leads me to ask, didja even read the post :-)

@Ambra Nykol

Stuff White Conservatives Like

1. NASCAR
2. Mayonnaise
3. TransAms/Cameros
4. American flags, flag-wear, anything with a flag on it.
5. Bikers who wear shirts defending the flag "burn this one a@@hole!"
6. The idea of taking pitchforks and shotguns to the doorsteps of congressmen
7. term limits
8. Women that look like women
9. Men that look like men
10. Babies
11. Anything from Old Navy
12. Kurt Russel, Tom Selleck, James Woods, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Bo Derek, and Angie Harmon
13. Baseball, hot dogs and apple pie
14. Fox News
15. Rush Limbaugh (so much they can name his cat in under 3 seconds)
16. the Constitution
17. Dunkin Donuts where a large is still a large
18. Quoting the Founders
19. God
20. Braveheart....FREEEEEEEEEDOOOOMMMMMMMM!
21. Bumper stickers that make fun of PETA (People Eating Tasty Animals) or gun control nuts (GUN CONTROL: Using both hands)

I have to admit, the SWPL site is hysterical. but it just doesn't include the 50 or so million OTHER white people.

I beg to differ on the above list. I am white and conservative and I DO NOT like TransAms/Cameros. Nor do I like at least 8-9 other things on that list. Of course, I am also part Hispanic, so maybe that explains the discrepancy?

Don't box me, peeps!

Aw man, you missed your chance!
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Why I'm Not a Republican Parts I, II, III, IV
Reflections on the Ill-Read Society
The ROI of a Kid
The Double-Minded Haters
Hindsight
Hip-Hop in Education: Do You Wanna Revolution?
Oh parent Where Art Thou?
Requisite Monthly Rant: the State of the Nation
College Curriculum Gone Wild
Walmart Chronicles
An Open Letter to American Idol
Gonorrhea and the City