Oreo. Coconut. Banana.
What do these things have in common besides being edible and arguably delicious?
They are all White on the inside.
I don’t remember the first time I saw/heard the word Oreo being used to describe a person but I have pretty much been aware of its meaning.
An Oreo is a person who is Black on the outside but White on the inside; meaning the person behaves in a manner usually attributed to White people. In movies, the Black un-athletic goody two shoes who enunciated properly, got good grades, had a diverse group of friends, lived in a decent neighbourhood, and could not rap was said to be an Oreo. Even a person who talks a certain way and likes certain activities, Skiing for example, is said to be acting White and is therefore an Oreo. It makes me roll my eyes.
See the urban dictionary for more on Oreos.
While I was aware that Black people could be Oreos, it never occurred to me that other races defined themselves in relation to Whiteness in the same way. Then one day one of the Arab-South Asian bloggers I follow mentioned something about being a coconut-brown on the outside, white on the inside and I was momentarily stunned. I did find it quite funny, haha a coconut how clever. Again Urban Dictionary came to the rescue: A coconut is a person who is anyone who is tan on the outside and white on the inside, so this could range from Mexicans to Indians to Arabs.
A couple of years ago I read an article written by a woman of eastern Asian origin who had been adopted and raised by White people. While discussing the effects of being an Asian looking person raised by White people she described herself as a banana-yellow on the outside, white on the inside. I hollered. First off I have never understood why Asians are yellow but I guess everyone needs a colour and yellow is really as good as it gets seeing as Black and White are taken. I thought first coconut now banana! Who else has a similar descriptor and why am I just finding out about them?
Even as I write this I just found out another one-Bounty (the chocolate not the reward)-which apparently can be a synonym for either Oreo or Coconut because is chocolate Black or brown really?
It all comes back to White.
I find these descriptors quite silly, to put it mildly, for several reasons-really two reasons; The first being that we are attributing certain traits to races which is the very definition of stereotyping; we are saying there is ONE way to be Black/White/Asian. The second is we are saying there are certain things that can only be done by White people. Most of these things are not inherent in our nature but are rather a product of our environment. White people are not genetically programmed to go skiing, neither are Black people genetically wired to not go skiing. There are a number of factors skiing is more popular with White people-Environmental factors-Less snow in Africa; Economic factors-White westerners on average have more money to spend on luxuries and pastimes. In this age of globalisation and multiculturalism it is ridiculous to expect each person to stick to the predefined activities assigned to their race. It is ridiculous to expect an Asian person born and raised in the West to not absorb any Western values or “act White,” relatively speaking.
Now I understand gentle teasing- you eat so many croissants are you sure you’re not French? I’m sure that there are instances when Oreo/coconut/banana may be used in this manner, but a lot of the time these labels are used in a derogatory manner. The accusation is that by doing these White things, one is rejecting one’s roots and culture and blah blah. It should go without saying that if a person elevates one race above the other and berates their culture they deserve whatever name they are called, but this is usually not the case.
I could go on to talk about the pervasiveness of whiteness and why the center is always white, but I’ve come to realise that there is really nothing much to it: The West has colonised pretty much the entire earth and bits of Mars, and there is a lot of migration to Western countries than the other way round. In addition the West is the epicentre of the world; we all consume its films, music, literature, art, news, knowledge, and technology. Of course Whiteness will always be the reference.
One interesting thing is how different this “Whiteness” is depending on you ask. For black people whiteness is fancy, lily livered and likes dangerous fun activities. For South Asians (or other more conservative religious cultures), Whiteness is all these things but it is also wild and immoral, it drinks alcohol and goes on dates. Even more interesting is the similarity: across all the races Whiteness is free to do as it wants. Blacks, Asians, Arabs will make jokes comparing their parents to White parents and in all comparisons the White parents are lenient pushovers who never hit their children.
Moral of this post is this: Let people explore and try new things without being labelled.