I gotta talk about this. I know I talk about a lot of depressing shit that embarrasses you, and I’m sorry. But I gotta.
23 Quotes That Perfectly Explain Racism
- The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything. -Scott Woods
- Motherfuckers will read a book that’s one third Elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they [white people] think we’re taking over. -Junot Díaz (junot, I love you.)
Maybe it’s because last night I was sorting through old pics. My dad will be sixty soon, and I was looking for pictures to showcase his youthfulness. His love. His life. He’s kinda brown, my dad. He’s got skin that’s browned from decades in the sun and he used to have black, wiry, wavy hair. Lush. Now it’s all white and you can see his scalp when he’s not wearing his trademark ballcap. I came across pictures of birthday parties and cookouts during my sort, and there was me: the blonde white girl in the sea of brown-skinned, dark-haired cousins with our grandmother.
I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t know where in Mexico, California, or Spain my family came from. I know I am a big ole mutt. My father’s side is thoroughly blended with Native American, (Cherokee, supposedly, who were moved west during the Trail of Tears, and later given land grants in California. I mentioned this to someone once and they replied, “Oh, don’t we all have a Cherokee ancestor down the line.” It felt like a slap in the face. Thus, I rarely discuss my Native heritage.) Spanish, Italian (according to my dad, although I can find no record of this in my search of birth/death certificates), and Mexican. Another talk for another time is how my father’s reluctance to discuss and slight ignorance of his family line is a byproduct of internalized racism.
Does it matter what I am? Yes, it matters to everyone who inquires about my last name, or used to ask about my big nose or my brown eyes. It matters to everyone who speaks to me in Spanish; it matters to everyone who used to see me out when I was a kid with my brown-skinned, black-haired father and look at us warily. It mattered to me when I was younger and my cousins and siblings used to tease me for being so pale. “You’re transparent. You’re like a ghost, Laina.” I’ve always been the white one. It mattered to my classmates when my brother and I used to nonchalantly say, without any thought of the implications, “we’re Mexican” after someone would make an insulting Mexican joke. It matters to all the Mexican students I’ve met who get insulted if I say I’m Mexican and then want to know where from, or if I say I’m Hispanic, but don’t speak Spanish and “don’t look like it.”
I’ve never been able to fit into anyone’s definition of being half-white, of being half-Hispanic. Of being whatever it is that I so clearly, obviously, am. My whole life I’ve heard from my white friends, “but you’re white.” My entire life has been a strange navigation of racial/ethnic politics and racial/ethnic assumptions (cause Hispanic isn’t a race) and a country that SO COMPLETELY VALUES the color of your skin. I jump these lines like hopscotch. I remember reading Borderlands in college and being blown the fuck away.
The things I get away with because I am a white-skinned girl. The things I witness when I am in a room full of white people, who think they are “safe.” Access. Privilege. Apathy. Just this past semester, I think it was February or March, I was at a friend’s of a friend playing cards and someone said something racist and in replies to the “oooohhs” he got he said, “So what, we’re all white here.” I made a side-eye at my friend. Yes, indeed, we’re all white here.
Because I’m the other and I’m not. Because no one can decide. I have friends who get annoyed with me when I talk about “white people.” White people do this; white people say this. Yes, I’m sure it is upsetting to see a girl with white skin turn white people into the other and separate herself from the very group she half belongs to. Yes, I know, it’s obnoxious of me. But do you know what’s more obnoxious? Being told my entire life what I am, who I am, and how I should be living that identity. So, fuck off. I’m going to make fun of white people, who love to put me in my place, and who have done so my entire life. And yes, in my spare time, I also make fun of Hispanics and Mexicans with my Hispanic siblings and my Mexican friends, because I am only half. So, yes, I’ve internalized all of these stereotypes and this strange habit of categorizing and labeling people.
All of this freedom and all of this privilege and we’re a bunch of fucking assholes.
But that’s it. That’s my experience, and I don’t pretend to know anyone else’s experience. I try to keep an open mind, and I believe when people say the institutions and the system and society tells them no, holds them down, keeps them at bay, because growing up as a female from a working class family, I’ve heard my fair share of no. I’ve felt the push of the system. Growing up privy to the experience of Hispanic men and women (who, unlike me, are treated as such because they are brown), I’ve felt the trickle-down effect of no.
But at the end of the day, it does matter where you come from and what your culture is, because in some form that has shaped your experience and your knowledge and who you will become. It’s a part of you. And because of the culture of the U.S.A.–it does or does not place restrictions on what you have access to and how you move about the world.
Racism/ignorance is rampant in this country. I hope you can see it. I hope you’re not afraid to talk about it. I hope you can acknowledge it and try to make the world a better place, even if it’s on a personal level. Even if it’s just confronting yourself.