“You Can See How Black People Evolved From Apes” and Other Racially-Charged Comments That Left Me Speechless

69 comments
July 17, 2012 ‐ By Lauren Carter
Surprised black woman

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I grew up with an Italian mother and a black father in a predominantly white town where the black population hovered just below 10 – including my sister, my father and I.

So by the time I hit my pre-teen years, I was not surprised when I heard racial slurs like “oreo,” “zebra” and the n-word, and even some I didn’t immediately understand, like “mocha face.” I was not surprised when some people griped I was “too white” and others complained I was “too black.” I was not surprised when my class took field trips into Boston and students shouted “Look at all the n—–s!” when we entered the city.

I had readied myself for these types of comments so that when someone called me a cruel name at lunch, or the boy I liked couldn’t like me back because his parents said so, it hurt a little less. I put my personal struggles in perspective and considered the plight and sacrifice of those who came before me, who endured much more than name-calling and forbidden dates.

But no matter how many racially-charged comments I faced with the most dignity I could muster, some statements — usually from people who were drunk or unaware I was listening — simply left me staring wide-eyed and speechless, simultaneously trying to pick my jaw up off the floor and process the nonsense I just heard.

As we all know, racism is powerful and pervasive, creeping into areas of life we are sure it can’t gain access to. And sometimes, people just say some crazy things:

“You know, looking at black people, you can really see how man evolved from ape.”

There I was, walking nonchalantly up the stairs at a family gathering when I heard a white relative blurt this out. He’d been watching a golf game and thought I was out of earshot, so he allowed his hatred to simmer above the surface, then smiled at me when I’d finally worked up the nerve to enter the room. I was 11 years old, and I was not quite ready to figure out that family is a seemingly protected boundary that racism can easily penetrate.

“Mick Jagger has a n—–’s lips.”

It was a middle school art class, and a girl at the next table over made this comment with an air of casual disgust. To no one in particular, or perhaps, indirectly to me. In a way, I wish she had addressed me specifically rather than ignoring the fact that I was 10 feet away, because by exclaiming this in my presence and pretending I didn’t exist, she made me feel both singled out and invisible.  And I spent the rest of the class trying to understand what exactly a “n—–‘s lips” were, and whether or not Mick Jagger had them.

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  • Lucy

    Just because we see similarities between blacks and hominins does not mean it’s “hatred”. One can be observant (even while non-PC) without being hateful. I’m not going to deny what I see just so people’s feelings aren’t butthurt. As an anthropologist, I am also struck when observing the similarities between early Homo species/hominins, and blacks. Just take a look at the reconstruction of species such as Homo erectus or Australopethicus afarensis and tell me they don’t look like a modern-day black person. Not to mention that all non-Africans have neanderthal genes (these were redheaded, white and very tall human species) which does speak of genetic differences. Btw, I am Latina, not white and all Latinos I know feel the same way – google Memin Pinguin and the issues with the soccer fans calling African players “monkeys”.

  • johalieb

    you muxg be over fifty to have taken a trip to Boston and have “students shoult “look at the N-ers!”.
    After about 1970 you would have had to be in a very narrow and specific 2 neighborhoods in order for that to happen with any regularity (ie more than ONCE by some assholes). One of those would be Southie
    I am not saying Boston in the 70s was not racist. But to have the Nword screamed at you requires more. Especialy if it were a pattern. It’s unlikely (unless you had horrific luck) to have that experience SIMPLY BECAUSE Black people were all around in the parts of the city you would visit as a student group. You wouldn’t stick out ie “look at them”. It’s illogical.

    And also, I highly doubt you went to Southie or Charlestown. Trips for school would go to the Science museum or something.
    I wonder if you were a bit loose with the facts in service of your story. Boston was known to be a hotbed of race issues in the 70s it would fit well with your narrative.

  • Jen

    I kind of feel like the reason we are so shocked when we hear racist comments is because we believe (at least want to believe) that there isn’t any racism anymore. Here in Canada they drilled us in elementary that we are a proud multicultural country where racism is a thing of the past. I grew up as a white girl where 70% of the kids in my grade were Asian. In my naive youth I really believed what they told us. I had both white and Asian best friends. As I got older we all started to separate: white with white and Asian with Asian. The racism in my country started to be revealed to me. It is really sad. The most recent racism I encountered was my white uncle stating that his grandchildren were ‘not anything like the First Nations people’ (they are half First Nations and half white). Although not blatantly racist, I feel like his comment shows that he is (at least somewhat) ashamed of having First Nations grandchildren. By denying their relation to the First Nations people he’s trying to make them more ‘white’.

  • Miles hampton

    This still happens today. I go to school in Birmingham Michigan and people say I’m not a real black guy because I don’t talk ignorant or because I listen to a wide range of music. It’s annoying!

  • Andrew

    I’m white, but with a tan complexion in summer. I was just called a guinea wop at my wife’s ultrasound. I think the woman was missing a screw, but this was a dose of reality to me.

    As for the author’s experience, many of these people, family and friends, are ignorant, but not necessarily racist and can still have much love for her despite stupid comments. There are strong divisions in black (american) culture with white (american) culture, but as people like her parents fall in love, or make friends with “different looking” people our children will deal with this less and less. We’ve come a long way since the 60’s.
    Another point. In South America and much of the Caribbean people of all colors reside, and it is often noted in conversation casually. In the states, despite many parallels in culture to South American and Caribbean nations, we are a bit more sensitive about this.

  • Denise

    I once had a indian coworker tell me that she can’t deal with her daughter’s hair anymore. It is too nappy. She had a child for a dark skinned black man and her daughter looks 100% black. I was gonna tell her off but my manager already put me on warning for telling off the other coworkers.

    • FromUR2UB

      Unfortunately, on a job, you have to tell people off while smiling. They still get it, without your getting in trouble for it.

  • sara

    This is y i don’t understand black men with all the racism y they down grade black womem to be with white women!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=510281305 Janessa Brown

    I stand up for my own and I do not for other minorties to be honest I do not care. Because majority of these minorties never stand up for us blacks why should we have to stand up for them?

  • Raven_Bell

    My sophomore year in college I was talking to my white friend and her roommate about this program I was in that targeted minority STEM students…the roommate says, “they probably only target y’all so y’all can actually graduate and not have different baby daddies and be on food stamps” before I knew it I cursed her out lol (while explaining to her that ppl of all colors use food stamps) I’m not usually like that but something about the blatant ignorance in her comment triggered me. Oh and by the way, she just had a baby with none other than a black man! And guess what?? He left her azz after taking all her money and she had to get on food stamps! #karma

    • April64baby

      Karma is a B—-!!! Wonder what pearls of wisdom she offers to black girls now.

  • Pingback: New piece on Madame Noire: Racially-charged comments that left me speechless – Lauren Carter

  • Athena.Long

    My biggest problem though, is all of you who DON’T SAY ANYTHING when people pop off.

    Yes, you’re probably not going to change their racist/bigoted beliefs, BUT, that has NO BEARING on you taking insulting, inappropriate, or derogatory behaviour.

    Don’t walk away. Don’t shrug your shoulders. STAND UP.

    (and before anyone says, ohhhh, well, that could be dangerous, I know, there are *limited* situations where gut judgment must be exercised, but come on, MOST of the time, these douches are big cowards and all it takes is just asking them to repeat or explain what they said.)

    • April64baby

      So true. Yes, we have to pick and choose our battles but there are times when remaining silent sends the message and impression that it’s okay. Remember, there may be others of both races watching/listening and just standing up and speaking out might really effect change – perhaps on both sides.

      • Athena.Long

        Mob mentality works in positive ways too. We’ve all seen examples of one person standing up, and others getting their back.

  • niceman

    A lot of white people still have racial prejudice towards blacks it’s just extremely covert.The same white coworkers that smile in your face at work are the same ones that talk ill about you when your back is turn.Overall from my observation the people that are openly racist towards blacks in most cases are not whites but other minorities (Hispanic,Asian,Indians,etc) who looking to appease the whites for acceptance.

    • Jerseysmelltours

      u b a little out there niceman…really paranoid…or maybe not!!!!

    • Dillard

      the most hateful statements said directly to me of my complexion were from black women born of separate sets of black parents on the east coast of america. The internal, self hate is staggering since Africa was chopped up and taken north.

    • Diana Martinez

      It’s got nothing to do with appeasing whites. In places like Latin America and Asia, India, etc. no one gives a crap about whites but the same prejudices are still held against blacks.

  • Msmykimoto2u

    I was in a production of Hairspray recently and were having a cast party (which consised mostly of highschool teens, I was 23) I was the only black cast member that showed up and when I walked in one of the little girls said, “Yay! Finally, we have some color in here!” and I stopped and looked at her but decided they were just naive little kids and probably didnt mean it like that so I let it go. But after they made a comment about my natural hair saying it would look cool if I had a pick in it, and when the white boy sitting behind me thought he was being unsuspecting while touching my hair like i couldnt feel it, I finally got up and told them about how rude they were being whether they thought so or not and how they should have been raised better. I left them feeling just as awkward as they made me feel

  • Smacks_hoes

    Racism will never end. Its been going on since the beginning of time and it will be here until the world comes to an end. We can’t change people’s ignorant mindsets. Believe me I’ve heard so ignorant comments from all kinds of different ethnic groups. Especially Mexican. I just shrug my shoulders and move on. I can careless about what the next man thinks of me. People tend to hate things they don’t understand. I have a friend who married a white man. His mother and father are both racist. His dad disowned him but his mom decided to get to know my friend because she didn’t want to lose her son. Eventually she fell in love with my friend. I’ve met are and she is seriously the nicest lady in the world now. She’ll literally do anything for my friend.

  • Kitsy

    You make a great point about racism that lies just beneath the surface and emerges in moments of drunkenness or familiarity. It emerges in the form of off-color jokes, sarcastic statements, and passive-aggressive behavior. I think this is the most typical form of racism most of us will encounter in our lives, and it is also the type that whites are most defensive about, insisting that it is not racism at all.

  • B

    I’ve been called derivative names, and not just by white people but also other minorities, whom you would expect are more sensitive. I know that the writer’s article is specific to her experience with white people but I am sure many of us did not just hear racist comments from whites.

    • B

      I meant “derogatory”

  • Just saying!!

    One girl said to me, “oohhh girl I love your hair! It’s not all nappy and ugly like most black people’s hair” and I overheard one girl say to another “but your hair can’t grow–you’re black”. These comments were both from Latinas. I have countless other comments of course but it’s too draining and time consuming to write out.

  • Kourtney

    Read the Yahoo comments section. All they talk about is race.

    • GoGreen

      I Feel you on this! I am starting to think the moderators are racist as well.

  • StuckInDaMatrix

    I don’t know why blacks act so shocked when faced with the reality that racism has and will always be here. Blacks are so desperate to be integrated with a race that history has shown, hates them. This is how the majority of whites feel. Its just been masked and has become covert.

    • So True

      You are absolutely correct!

    • Smacks_hoes

      It’s not fair to say that most whites hates us….there is alot of white people that don’t feel this way. It’s like saying all black people are ghetto. It’s nit fair to put white people into one category. I went to an all white school elementary school. Now I’m at a majority white college. I can say for a fact in I was picked on more being in a majority black environment more than I was in a majority white environment. Im not saying that racism doesn’t exsist I’m saying that all white people shouldn’t be placed into the same category.

      • StuckInDaMatrix

        It is fair to say why? Because if these whites were not that way as you claim, they would give up their white privilege and advocate for justice for people of color. Have they done that? You know just as well as I, NO! In face, you attending your college is nothing more than covert affirmative action nothing more nothing less. So integrated one, tell me, ask your white friend would they give up their white privilege to be on equal terms with you?

        • Na Na

          Sorry, but yes, you are truly stuck in the matrix. Would you sell your homes and possessions to give it to the victims family if your brother killed someone? This is crazy to expect people who were not there and do not even believe the same things as their ancestors to “give up their white privilege and advocate for justice”. SN:you can’t give up privilege because its not given by yourself its placed on you by others.

          • StuckInDaMatrix

            Ah yes that classic comeback when one doesn’t have nothing to say. Dear one my name has nothing to do with your argument. Which means there isn’t one! Advocating for white people is what your post is about which means you cannot effectively refute mine. Think harder and try again. We live in a world of white supremacy and whether you want to accept it or not it affect you, and your relationships with white in any capacity. Even if they were not there they still benefit from it to this day. Thus, they are guilty by association.

            • Na Na

              What are you talking about?

              • StuckInDaMatrix

                Learn to read and you’ll find out!

            • SMHgurl24

              My god are you done with your victim speech? ”boo hoo whit ppl are this and that” get the freak over it and do something with yourself bc being bitter isnt going to make me or anyone else jump on your bandwagon. this world is run by all of us! You say that the world is run by racist whites yet you do nothing but complain. This world isnt run by whites its run by monsters who control the masses by keeping us divided through fear. Instead of doing what they want you to do why dont you do what needs to be done. Bring EVERYONE together.

              • StuckInDaMatrix

                Where have I complained? Be specific I ask you. Complaining is when you whining and not taking responsibility. What I wrote it putting the responsibility on you by asking you to get out of white idolatry and hold your white counterparts r responsible for the actions their forefathers participated in. Your the type of black who doesn’t want black advancement. You want to be underlings in a system of white supremacy.

            • Ilikewhitepeople

              Get OVER it! You seem to have a big old chip on your shoulder that you could use some cooking oil for.

            • Ilikewhitepeople

              Get OVER it! You seem to have a big old chip on your shoulder that you could use some cooking oil for.

        • Na Na

          Sorry, but yes, you are truly stuck in the matrix. Would you sell your homes and possessions to give it to the victims family if your brother killed someone? This is crazy to expect people who were not there and do not even believe the same things as their ancestors to “give up their white privilege and advocate for justice”. SN:you can’t give up privilege because its not given by yourself its placed on you by others.

        • Na Na

          Sorry, but yes, you are truly stuck in the matrix. Would you sell your homes and possessions to give it to the victims family if your brother killed someone? This is crazy to expect people who were not there and do not even believe the same things as their ancestors to “give up their white privilege and advocate for justice”. SN:you can’t give up privilege because its not given by yourself its placed on you by others.

        • Na Na

          Sorry, but yes, you are truly stuck in the matrix. Would you sell your homes and possessions to give it to the victims family if your brother killed someone? This is crazy to expect people who were not there and do not even believe the same things as their ancestors to “give up their white privilege and advocate for justice”. SN:you can’t give up privilege because its not given by yourself its placed on you by others.

    • Msmykimoto2u

      Actually, i doubt many of us are shocked at all because the majority of us know it still exists. Its when white people get mad at us saying that we always play the race card when we acknowlede it

  • get real

    Apes have straight hair like white people. Apes have pink skin like white people. Apes have thin to lips like white people. Apes have big ears like white people. Funny how they compare them to black people. Lol.

    • Just saying!!

      Shave an ape and the skin ain’t black either lol!

      • Diana Martinez

        It’s not the hair or skin, it’s the facial features and structure that bear a likeness.

    • Anonymous

      LOL, this is so true. White folks will find anything to degrade us, even when it doesn’t relate. These type of things don’t hurt, it’s comedy because white people look ridiculous trying to constantly prove all the time. Guilty conscience.

    • Dillard

      I just finished surfing the net on “Planet of the Apes”–many writers feel its obviously racist by equating black folk with all ape species. So I was thinking ‘I’ve never seen an ape with curly hair like me': buffalo, president dog Bo, but no chimp, gorilla, macaque, monkey,orangutan, or baboon etc. Now here’s the STRANGE part. No mention on the net except yours, Get Real. Hmmmmm

    • Diana Martinez

      You do realize all humans ARE primates?

  • KJ23

    When I was in college a friend and I were on the bus to go to the mall. There were a group of young girls that were speaking Spanish. This older white guy turned to me and started telling me how rude they were and since they were in America they should speak “American.” Then he told me “That’s why I don’t have problems with blacks. When you guys came over here you stopped speaking your language, you know, ooga booga. That’s what you guys used to speak.. At least you guys stopped that.” I politely removed myself and moved to another seat.

    • Just saying!!

      Wtf!?!? *Removes the earrings*

      • soulsis

        And subsequently slathers on the vaseline, LOL!

        • Msmykimoto2u

          *Puts on 4 chunky rings I bought from citi trends on both hands*

          • autumnbreeze

            And let the beat down begin..lol

    • Jane Doe

      Bwahahaha. Me and my WHITE bf have a joke whenever we see a mexican person we say I wonder if they speak AMERICAN?

  • Lexa

    Wow, it’s stories like these that make me feel cautionary around whites. Not to say that all whites are prejudiced or racist but it seems like a lot of them have underlying prejudices.

    • B

      It’s not just whites, though. You should be cautious around everybody.

      • Smacks_hoes

        Exactly…people tend to hate things that’s they don’t understand.

  • Tatum Pascal

    I don’t understand why your parents would choose to raise half black children in a town with less than 10 black people COUNTING said children and their father. For some reason, some white people seem to feel that their black children will be seen as different and be accepted in their all white communities. I would never raise a biracial child in an all white environment. It’s just not fair.

    • Guest

      I’m biracial and I spent time in both enviroments as a kid – one all black, the other all white. Interestingly enough, I had MANY more problems in the all black environment. I was beaten up, picked on and tormented for not being “black enough.” I really think it depends on the circumstances.

      • B

        I think she meant, it would make more sense to raise a bi-racial child in a more diverse atmosphere. Not primarily black…not primarily white…just diverse.

        • TatumPascal

          That is exactly what I meant. White folks know how other white folks are. Heck- black folks do to! Not all white people are racist but a lot of them are ignorant when they have grow nup in an all white environmen and say things that wouldn’t necessarily be said or thought in a more diverse environment. I think it is intentionally naive to think that your biracial child will not experience a lot of ignorant crap in an all white town. Especially considering the writer is grown now and her parents were around in the 60s and 70s. And if her parents were born and raised in that town then they REALLY should have prepared their children for the bs they would potentially get at school.

          • Guest

            Of course it would be naive to think a biracial child wouldn’t have to put up with a bunch of nonsense. However, my point was that the nonsense isn’t limited to all white communities. And just like Na Na said, not everyone has the means to simply pick and move because life is hard. The author also states that she was prepared for all the BS she would get so I’m not sure what else her parents could have done?

    • Na Na

      Because that’s where she was born, just like you might not understand why thousands of people stayed in LA when they were notified that Hurricane Katrina was coming, because that’s where they live and people don’t always have the financial means to pick up and move because life in a certain place is hard. How ignorant of you to pass judgement on how her parents raised her. I swear its hard being a journalist or artist, you truly put your self and experiences out to the world hoping to inspire a thought, a dialogue, hell maybe even a life changing experience and people hit you with the ” Eeew why did your parents raise you like blah blah blah”

      • johalieb

        to put it simply. They stayed put during Katrina because many did not have cars. Suburban people cant understand this but in many cities many poeple, but especialy poorer and working class people, do not have cars.
        The city knew this and did not provide buses or enough buses to evacuate people.
        three thousand died. Americans forget this. MORE PEOPLE DIED due to negligence than during 9/11

      • johalieb

        to put it simply. They stayed put during Katrina because many did not have cars. Suburban people cant understand this but in many cities many poeple, but especialy poorer and working class people, do not have cars.
        The city knew this and did not provide buses or enough buses to evacuate people.
        three thousand died. Americans forget this. MORE PEOPLE DIED due to negligence than during 9/11

    • Guest

      No that was not where her father came from. Some black men move to the most white unknown towns just to increase their chances of having kids with a white woman. I live in NYC and even though a few of these white women date these black men they do not want them for marriage or for having children. Simply sex.

      • Mamacita Ravioli

        How do you know these women only want these men for sex? Did you lead a survey or did you just go up and ask every single one of them? Or is it just that some white girl took your man?

    • Guest

      My mom is white just like this author’s mother. Whenever my parents go out and people realize my mother is with my father black men just smile at my mom and sometimes they even try to talk to my mother!! There also seem to be this idea by non-blacks that beautiful women should not date black men. I remember when my mom use to go to my parent teacher conferences the students would say that’s your mom? she is so pretty why did she marry a black man? I have even talked to non-black men who have told me that I was too pretty to date black men even though I am half black.