None shall pass

05/29/2012

a thing i have begun doing fairly recently (within the last year or so) is explaining my background in a way that both acknowledges my mixed race heritage and (more importantly, i feel) acknowledges that i experience “hella white privilege.” a conversation with W. recently made me want to better explore my motivations for revealing* my identity in this matter.

so let’s go back in time for a bit. as a child i tried to come up with words for what i am so that it would make better sense to the uninitiated. chicano came closest, but i find most non-Californians don’t know the word–or have negative associations with it. colloquialisms about race become loaded quickly. finally in my teens i settled on using “humorous”** adaptations like whitezican and mexi-fry. i hoped the implicit sarcasm of these words would both acknowledge the complexity of race (just because it’s a social construct doesn’t mean it doesn’t deeply affect peoples lives, y’all) and ward off racist bullshit. if i served as a visible representation of the “other” so feared and hated by white folks, maybe they would let go of the racism they harbored, not tell that beaner joke, or look at someone with browner skin than both of ours more closely, as a human being rather than a grievance. i know you’re wondering, “well, did it work?” yes and no, but mostly: no. the effect was so low as to be mostly imperceptible, and if anything at times my attempt at humor appeared to open up the floodgates for other peoples’ racist jokes: anti-racist fail, anyone?

what did work, what does work, is to hold people accountable: name the behavior, state the narrative, explain how it makes you feel. sometimes my background comes into play in those explanations, as in, “…it particularly makes me feel that way because racism is not just abstract to me–it is something that affects my family deeply, and that has repercussions in my own life/personal politic,” but i find that’s not always necessary. accountability feels like the most effective tool i have in working against individual acts that perpetuate white supremacy, but i will be the first to confess it’s all a work in progress. there are times when i swallow my tongue out of fear or anxiety. and i am still theorizing on how to fight against the broader ways in which oppression plays out, tho i feel like prison abolition is an important part (and oh god, how to do that?)

what are my other motivations for identifying myself as mixed race when i could otherwise “pass”? i feel like when people make assumptions about my race , they are whitewashing the complex legacy of colonialism, even tho it still affects my life and the lives of my family members on the daily. we are divided by the border, U.S. policy, institutional violence, white imperialism, and other legacies of violence. it is not as simple narratives about skin, although brownness is still treated as unequal to whiteness in the world. i want people (white and otherwise) to understand that i am both an “us” and a “them”, and that the fact that i feel the need to say anything like that is part of why the social construct of race is so shitty.

is it effective to essentially other myself in order to make this experience more visible? well dude, i dunno. how shall we gauge for efficacy, a scale of 1 to 10? the range of frequency with which i have to choose between holding someone accountable or weathering their racist shit? i don’t know. all i know is, fighting white supremacy culture is important–and i am deeply invested in doing so, despite or because of the ways in which it terrifies and challenges me. i will remain vigilant. i will remain critical. i will remain accountable. i will remain engaged, with a constant eye for new tools and sharpening existing ones.

More reading:

 

*vs. “passing,” a term i find super loaded and assumptive, but also pretty well explains my experience if i don’t speak up.

**oh, how my sense of humor has changed over time. geez. i am still embarrassed about this! don’t ever call me those names. evarrr.

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