This is a guest post by Marina, an awesome writer, social-media-managing freelancer, podcaster, and overall person that I know. She and I are trading blog posts for today on the topic of Realizing that You’re Brown. You can check out my post for today as well as the rest of her writings at her eponymous site, Marina Rose Martinez.
Glendora, California is where I became a Mexican. It was 1999, the summer before my freshman year in high school, and I was standing at the check-stand in Albertsons still sweaty from the walk over and totally, completely, freakishly alone.
I don’t know how many times before this day I was in a building with only white people in it. It would have never occurred to me that we were different from each other, so it probably happened a lot. My grandmother and her second husband were both white, and they raised me from two to 13. I went to a private school, I took horseback riding lessons, I had a therapist. Whiteness was my entire jam. So, white was normal, I felt normal, therefore I was basically white. It didn’t help that my education, while extensive in most areas, left me with the incorrect impression that the history of racism in American was this: Slavery; Lynching; Dr. Martin Luther King; Racism is over.
So when the middle aged cashier told me a beaner joke, it was basically a scene in a horror movie for me. Telling me a racist joke was the creepiness equivalent of pulling a KKK hood out of one pocket and some hangin’ rope out of the other. I had no way to handle it. At first I wasn’t sure I’d heard her right. I mean, racists only exist in after-school specials, right? After I’d confirmed that she was indeed joking about my race, I looked around for some solidarity. This lady’s clearly lost her damn mind. But instead of outrage, I saw boredom and apathy on every single white face in that store.
Which is when I realized two things: that I was the only non-white person in that store, and that not being white was a serious problem for me. This crazy bitch was on some kind of racist tirade, and none of these white people looked like they were prepared to help me when she snapped and decided to drag me to death behind her gross rusty truck.
Now that I know about passing privilege, I realize the unfortunate old bigot probably didn’t even realize I was Mexican, and instead wrongly assumed that “we” were alone. As in, we’re all white here so I can say all the terrible shit I would never ever say in front of anybody who didn’t pass. A situation I’ve had the great misfortune of being in quite a few times since then. They’re never quite as unsettling as the first time, but they’re still pretty icky. You want to think you’d stand up for yourself and your people in that situation, but the most progressive I’ve ever been able to get is to flee angrily instead of smiling like an idiot, lest they realize the truth and fall on me like hyenas.
The cost of passing privileged is that I get to hear all the horrible shit white people say about us when they think we’re not around. And I know, not all white people, etc. But I’ve heard everything from how all us Mexicans should be sterilized, to how all us Mexicans should be gas chambered to how all us Mexicans are a great example of family values and how uppity white women like me need to learn from “our” Mexican friends how to really be wives and mothers. Having seen first hand hour a Mexican wife and mother gets treated in her own home, I’ll pass.
The problem with being a woman from a misogynistic culture is that nowhere is home. I go into monoculture space and I am othered for my race. I go into community space and I am othered for my gender, or more appropriately my lack of conformity to my gender. There’s a perception that women like me think we’re “too good,” when in reality what I want is for all of us to be good enough. Good enough for education, good enough for equal partnerships and job opportunities, and good enough for freedom from unending household servitude.
In the meantime, all the things I want for my Chicana sisters might as well be irrelevant. White women make 77 cents to a man’s dollar, but Hispanic women make only 61 cents. The intersection of feminism and race politics can be a muddy place, especially when your efforts are seen as “trying to act white” by both sides.