My existence is a life-long treasure hunt.

Cultural Differences

Have you ever hung out with friends of different races/ethnicities and every now and then something comes up that reminds you, wow, there really are cultural differences that slip through?

So a few times a month I meet up with 2 of my former co-workers-turned-friends who both happen to be white. We eat, drink, cackle, what have you. One is named ‘J’, one is ‘T’.

One time, we met up at a restaurant after work and it was raining. I don’t even remember how we got on this topic, but we started discussing what to wear when it rains. Now, most black people I know (me included) joke about the “white people uniform” of sweatshirt, shorts, and flip-flops no matter what the weather is. It could be a blizzard, hail, heat-stroke weather, whatever, but they are gonna STUNT in their “white people uniform” and ain’t shit we can say about it. So I was telling them that I always check the weather before I leave and have a pair of closed-toe shoes or sneakers ready. BTW, we live in Houston where if there’s anywhere from 10-30% chance of rain, it’s going to rain, you just have to guess where, and for how long. If it’s anywhere from 40% on up chance of rain, it’s going to rain EVERYWHERE and you just have to hope it doesn’t flood. So again, I told them I STAY sneakered up for rain possibilities. We moved on to other topics.

We met up again at a different date, and we start talking and ‘J’ gets all crunk out of nowhere saying, Gem! I took your suggestion about wearing sneakers when it rains and OMG it worked! I was so comfortable! I can’t believe I didn’t think of that sooner! So she’s just extra-crunk about closed-toe shoes in the rain and I’m staring at her like O_O. After that I thought, well maybe that’s one stereotype that’s true, white people really don’t alter their wardrobe for rain like black people do.

So another dinner date comes up, we’re all talking, and (I don’t remember why this came up) I asked ‘T’ if she could swim. She gave me a look like I lick windows and said “…Yeah” nodding her head slowly like you do with “special” people. Her response suggested that in her mind, everyone knows how to swim so why would I even ask that? I got a little defensive and said well, I know more people who cannot swim than those who can. Her eyes widened in surprise, “Really??” Then it dawned on me. The stereotype that black people can’t swim is real y’all. For the record, *I* know how to swim, my husband can swim, and my father/brothers/sister can swim. But damn near EVERY other black person I know, from my family on my mother’s side, to Crabby’s family, to our friends, DO NOT KNOW HOW TO SWIM. I said to ‘T’, “I think it’s a black thing.” Sure enough, just about everyone she knows (white) knows how to swim.

Those 2 small incidents have stuck with me since they happened. There truly are little differences in the way people grow up. Yes, I know this occurs within-races too but these incidents just happened to prove widely-held stereotypes/jokes as fact. It’s just funny whenever that happens. I dunno, maybe I’m weird but it’s funny to me. Like, at what point in a black person’s childhood does it become ingrained in us that we check the weather and alter our wardrobe accordingly, where white people don’t? Where does the focus on learning to swim come into white people’s lives as normal and black people’s as abnormal? I WANTED to learn how to swim as a youngster, otherwise I’m pretty sure my mother wouldn’t have pushed for it.

Anyhoo, have you had any similar experiences with your own friends of different backgrounds? Share!


Comments on: "Cultural Differences" (13)

  1. Gem, stereotypical as it may seem…
    The first thing I always think of when I wonder in my head why so many folks believe black folks don’t know how to swim…

    people of color were not allowed in swimming pools with white folks
    people of color were being held subservient to white folks therefore, what time was there to learn how to do the breast stroke and the front crawl? (we’re talking decades ago)

    on another note, Sophie Cakes is on the Pre-Swim team/Junior Life-Guard squad…so BUMP stereotypes…my little one is fit to swim circles around Phelps…

  2. Cas- You bring up good points as always, especially explaining my mother’s generation and older. But I wonder more about the younger generation, who haven’t had to face these situations (hopefully). The discourse has changed from we COULDN’T swim due to civil rights issues, etc. to younger black people just being “afraid” of water in general. True, this could have just been passed on from parent to child but it is really interesting.

    *HIGH FIVE* to Sophie-pie, I know she will ALWAYS come through. I LOVED the water when I was younger (I still do, but I don’t love pools as much anymore, just oceans/rivers/lakes more) and I would have loved to have been a lifeguard. I hope you get some pictures of Sophie doing her life-saving thang 🙂

  3. Ugh, I hate that smiley-face. That’s not the kind of smiley-face I meant at all >: – l

  4. I always run into strange but true stereotypes about being Hispanic or thing s I absolutely don’t get and can’t relate in American Culture still today

    I also fugging for no reason HATE that as soon as I talk is game over and everyone wants to start inquiring about : OOOHH whereyoufrrrooomm? that IMMEDIATELY singles you out

  5. Me and one of my white coworker/friends noticed that black folks ( I’m black) take at least a week sometimes longer to bury loved ones while white folks will put you in the ground in a couple of days.

  6. OMG don’t get me started. I’ve gotten the jokes about not needing sunscreen when I’m at the beach or pool because I’m already dark and protected. No you simple fool, dark-skinned folks can get skin cancer too. Duh.

    Or I’ve gotten the “oh you can’t get your hair wet can you because it’s not yours.” 0_0 I’ve never worn a sew-in or had tracks glued in my hair. So when I play in the rain or fully submerge my body in the water, THEY are shocked. And lest we not forget that I was lifeguard certified because I was a camp counselor in Florida one summer. Black people are camp counselors too.

    Folks kill me but that’s just the way of the world I suppose.

  7. I think the only reason I learned how to swim was because we had a pool.

    @Bee that may be a religious thing. Maybe. I know Jewish people have a time limit. Then again, it could be a function of cost…

  8. QQ that’s cause they can’t resist that Stallion accent of yours mami!

    Bee and Alicia: Good points both of you. Most of the white funerals I know of (non-Jewish) they had the viewing/funeral 2-3 days after death while black funerals were generally 5-7 days after death.

    Monique: The funny thing is black people say that more than white people (about the sunscreen) in my experience. LOL did they think the weave was going to burst into flames or something because you got it wet? Chile…

  9. Ah! Yes, I can def relate to this. As far as the “black folks don’t know how to swim” stereotype within the younger generation, I always thought it was that the chicks didn’t want to get their hair wet b/c of all the fryin’, dyin’ & laid-to-the-side’n [wait, what?] that goes on to get the hair perfect. There have been multiple times when I’ve been at the pool, frolickin’ like a sea otter & the other black girls were steady screaming “DON’T GET MY HAIR WET, NAH! YOU PLAY TOO MURCH!” -shrugs-

    As far as other cultural differences I’ve experienced, I always seem to get the ‘hair’ questions, probably b/c I’m natural. “Why don’t y’all wash y’all’s hair as often? Yours grows slower? Why do y’all get perms?” -_____-

    I remember a time when I was in Macy’s with a white friend of mine & she was returning something. There were two black lady clerks at the desk helping her. We were talking about our plans for the night & I was complaining I didn’t know what to do with my hair b/c I had just done it the previous Thursday. Suddenly, she’s bursts out with, “SEE, I wish I had Y’ALL’S hair b/c Y’ALL can say you did your hair a week ago & it’s just now messing up, but I’ll say I just did mine yesterday & it’s already messed up!” The black ladies turned & looked at me, as if to say I need to check my whitey friend. All I could do was shrug. This is also my friend that uses the N-word regularly & I’m not sure how to confront her about it… -shrugs-

    Sorry for the long post! I just felt I could relate. :]

  10. HAAAA at “frolickin’ like a sea otter”

    The hair comment your friend made didn’t really bother me but how do YOU feel about her using the N-word? Some black people get mad, some black people don’t get mad at all, and some people get mad because they feel like they’re supposed to be mad when it doesn’t really bother them? How does it make you feel? How does she use it?

    Thank you for commenting, you should start a blog!

    • You’re welcome! No, the comment didn’t bother me, mostly b/c I”m used to her & her personality. She’s one of the kind of white girls others would label as “trying to be black.” That doesn’t always excuse some of her behavior, but like I said, I’m used to her by now.
      As far as her using the N-word… EH. It doesn’t bother ME, but never goes unnoticed when she says it around me. I remember being on the phone with my [ex]boyfriend and she said it, & he went ballistic, & was upset with me b/c I didn’t check her [this is not why we broke up tho]. Honestly, it’s not her use of the N-word that bothers me, more so than other comments & her tone. However, I feel as if I’ve let it go on for so long, it’s too late for me to speak up about it. Eh, idk… I hardly speak to her these days, anyway, so it’s whatever. I just hope she doesn’t say the wrong thing around the wrong person & I hear about her on the news. O_____o

      & Again, I apologize for such a long post, LOL. I’m chatty. 🙂 & I actually do have a blog, but I haven’t gotten into my blogging stride yet. I have topics, but I don’t know how to speak on them, w/o dialogue. Here’s the link if you’d like to check it out, anyway. I also have a tumblr at [I promise I’m not trying to advertise. >_<]

      Enjoy your November! 🙂

  11. Sunny South Africa said:

    Loved your post, as a coloured kid in South Africa – I did learn how to swim – but my mom and all the women in the house would moan for two days about combing out the tangled fro….. only reason why black peeps can’t swim – we needed our hair to be like white peeps – and that means not getting into the swimming pool.
    Oh ja – right about white peeps costume…. but must admit i am raising my kids that way – very practical – only have to dry the skin off once we inside the house(no wet clothes or shoes) and the baby ( four months old) is going to go barefoot until he goes to school……

  12. Wow, that is interesting. See here, (at least with girls) where the relaxer/perm is so prevalent, ANY water (swimming, rain) is bad. I suppose they could wear swimming caps but I don’t recall ever seeing them. But there are always black kids/adults in the pool, in the ocean, in water theme parks, just in the shallow ends so it wasn’t so much they didn’t like the water at all; they just couldn’t swim.

    I can see the practicality of it now that you put it that way. I didn’t even think of it that way. I think with most people I know, it’s that icky feeling of wet skin, being exposed to the elements. I like the idea of the barefoot baby 🙂

    Thank you for visiting!

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