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- Growing Up Bronx
Recently, I stopped by the doctor for a routine checkup. As I filled out the documentation, there was a man and a woman who were also filling out the introductory paperwork. As she filled out the form, she asked her friend, “Do I put white here?” He looked at her and said, “You are not white.” Taken aback she replied, “I no black, I no black. I go put white here.”
This woman was Latina, a beautiful dark skin Latina. She had the very familiar, thick, Puerto Rican accent. She didn’t speak proper English, and she repeated while shaking her head, “I no black.” This lovely, brown woman adamantly spoke up about not being black to her friend who continued saying, “Pero abuelita, you are absolutely no white! Que es esto?”
Ladies and gentlemen, I have news for you, if you are Latinx, and you look like this lady, you are black. Some people will consider you brown, but in the eyes of mainstream society, if we are simply talking about black and white, you are black. Sorry to have to break it to your self hating, racist self, but yeah, you ain’t white abuelita. And guess what? That’s totally okay!
*Personal Experience Rant Coming Up*
I happen to have very fair skin, and I have been often attacked, both figuratively and literally by my own Latino brothers and sisters for being too white! On many occasions I have been told that the only reason I have amounted to anything in life is because I have this “white privilege.” They have said, “If you weren’t white, you’d be nothing, like the rest of us.” That really, really pisses me off. It entirely discredits all of the work, all of the struggle, and all of the good decisions that I made growing up in the streets. Also, it reinforces this mindset that in order to achieve anything in life, you have to be white, or have light skin! That too pisses me off, and it is a major problem in our communities that we must root out! The effects of oppression run deep, and it is only now as I get older that I realize these things. In my youth, and even not that long ago, I’d blindly condemn these folks, but there is so much more to it.
Saying that my skin color is the only reason I “got out” negates to acknowledge the fact that I got up every morning, religiously, and took the bus and train to school. It neglects to see the fact that I spent countless hours in front of my books, studying and preparing for tests. That statement gives me absolutely no credit for turning down the many quick cash drug dealing jobs that I was “offered” by my own people in the hood. The statement ignores the subsequent slaps to the face, and the ostracizing that I encountered for refusing to take up arms in the gangs. It’s not fair, and it enrages me!
In addition, those statements do all of those things, and more to my brown brothers and sisters who did the very same things I did growing up. They too encountered difficulties because of this hard wired self hate, and the systemic abuse that we as a people have endured for so long. I understand, but that’s not fair to us, or to our decision making!
Don’t get me wrong, I am not blind to the fact that having this fair skin makes me appear less threatening to certain individuals. I know that the old lady is less likely to grab her purse when I walk into a room. I don’t deny that when I have traveled abroad to places like the Dominican Republic, I was treated better because of my appearance, and the illusion of privilege that it creates. I am not blind to the fact, that many times my fair skin has granted me favor in society. I know that cops are less likely to bother me because I don’t appear threatening or scary. I’m being real with you, I know quite well that white privilege exists. But, to use my skin color in an attempt to discredit all of the work that I put in? That I will not accept or tolerate!
I can name many individuals with skin lighter than mine, green eyes, blond hair, who came from the same place I did and went to prison, or took other less productive paths in life. This was not based on the color of their skin, but on their own personal decisions. In this society, fair skin can and does grant you favor, but if you are a criminal, then you are a criminal. Regardless of your skin color. I do not and will not accept anyone discrediting the hard work and choices I made!
That being said, when it comes down to it, I am Latino. Those white people which my abusers believed give me privilege, they also know that I am Latino. I may have fair skin, but I am brown to society, just like you are. I’m damn proud of it too! My father’s “Indio” blood runs through my veins, my grandmother’s black skin lives on in my genetic essence. Though my appearance may be what it is, I am and have always been proud of who I am, where I come from, and my culture. Even when my own culture had rejected me, and even when I lost my damn mind and joined the Republican party for some months. Even then, I said loud and proud to all that could hear, I am proud of my heritage!
But, I just totally digressed didn’t I!
*Personal Experience Rant Ends*
This woman was very old, and sadly, in our culture, racism does exist. Same as here in the U.S, it exists all over Latin America. Just go and visit any country, and tell me that you don’t see the same clear lines and divisions based on race and skin color. Obviously, this woman has an issue with her blackness. It really doesn’t surprise me given her age. The older folk tend to be slightly more ignorant, due to no fault of their own. What was normal when they were younger changes, yet they are not out in the world anymore, and they simply don’t know. It is our job to educate them, as they once did us.
It bothered me that she said this so strongly, “I no black, I no black,” the way she did. I wanted to educate her and say something, but she was old, and I don’t think the conversation would have gone too well. In hindsight, I regret not speaking up.
Based on my appearance, I look white, but when filling out paperwork, I have never put “white.” Not that I have anything against my white brothers and sisters, but, “I no white, I no white.”
What are your thoughts on this complex matter?
Growing Up Bronx