This has been weighing on my mind for, well, I'd say weeks, but it's been years.
I've been quiet for a long time, and I'm a little ashamed of myself for that. It's hard to speak up when you're not quite sure where your place is in the situation, when you're straddling cultural lines. When all this Ferguson business started (well, not when it started, but when it came into the public eye weeks ago), I found myself a bit dumbfounded and at a loss for words. The morning I read the news, I was lying in bed from a very privileged position in the world, a smart phone in hand, and the scent of bacon in the air. I was on vacation, not constrained by financial worry or hardship, sleeping in a house on the beach on a vacation from my good full-time job. And when I perused the morning news, the images of what looked like the Civil Rights Movement shocked me.
I did a lot of reading, did a lot of listening, did a lot of thinking about all this. I don't know what happened in Ferguson. I think it's sad that I don't even feel like I can trust a news source to report the facts of a situation. For the most part, I kept myself away from comments on articles that seemed to be making an attempt to give unbiased information because we all know how many ignorant idiots frequent comment sections on the Internet. Here's the problem, though: if we dismiss the ignorant idiots in the comment sections, we're dismissing what seems to be a large part of the population that helps perpetuate problems like racism, sexism, and the like. I'm not suggesting that those making inflammatory comments need attention--in fact, it's probably better if they get no attention. However, I don't think that staying silent is the answer either. And what is interesting around Ferguson and the issue of racism in general is the silence.
I can't seem to find the article that questioned the absence of white people's voices in the Ferguson situation, but it was a good one. It definitely made me do some thinking about the issue myself, about how maybe I need to add my voice to the conversation on racism. About how maybe voices like mine could make some kind of difference. The sad part is that on the few occasions when I have added my voice, I was met with silence. Do you know why?
It's because I'm not 100% white.
Give yourself a minute to let that sink in. Thirty percent of the time, it doesn't shock anyone, but, obviously, that's not the norm.
I am 50% white. I am also 50% Mexican. The second I say something, bringing up my cultural identity to white people who are usually saying something off-color (no pun intended) about other races/ethnicities, the entire conversation being had stops. Every. Single. Time. You know why? Because, as I have been told more than once, I "don't look Mexican." I don't really know what that means. That I don't fit into a stereotype? Or that....you've created a box for me to fit into and because you've interacted with me, and I'm not rolling my rs or being a fiery Latina, it means I can pretend I am white like you are? Just because I don't wear my cultural identity so obviously on my skin doesn't mean it isn't there.
At times, when the subject of my ethnicity has arisen, I've even heard, "but you're half white" as a way to excuse whatever is going on, which is particularly appalling. I'm straddling cultural lines, which puts me in a kind of unique position when it comes to race and ethnic identity. I'm quickly accepted as being white with white people because my privilege of growing up in a middle-class family and being educated has seemed to outweigh my appearance that isn't immediately identified as non-white by some people. This means I've had the privilege of watching racism in action all my life from the inside without it changing my life significantly. One of the reasons racism makes my head explode is due to that stupid privilege. I can go along for months, sometimes even years, interacting with people without having my half-Mexican identity come into play. And I think people like me just fine, no problem. And then everything changes--then I hear someone say something about immigration or food or whatever and inevitably something along the lines of "Well, at least you're not Mexican!" either aimed directly at me or sort of in passing,. Because then I have to say, "Well, actually, I am," and the air goes quiet and people shift around awkwardly and the subject changes. What confounds me is that before people know this bit of information, they don't seem to care where I came from because they'll make their HILARIOUS racist jokes all they want until I say something. Apparently, when I meet people, I should just say, "Hi, I'm Marissa Marangoni, I know my last name is Italian, but my mother is Mexican, so I am not white. If you're not racist, we can continue our interactions in the future."
Cultural identity has been kind of a battle for me. In a way, I am accepted with all groups of people. I am okay in the white people because I "act white" and look "pretty Italian" as I've been told. I am also okay in minority groups because I am part minority, too. At the same time, I'm not accepted in either group. The minute I speak up about whites being racist or highlight the fact that I *AM* one of those "dirty Mexicans" who "steals people's jobs" and only got my education and position "because of affirmative action" they're laughing at, I'm not a part of their group anymore. Not fully. And, on the flipside, within the Latino/Latina culture, I get sneered at because my mother "didn't even teach [me] [my] Spanish." My life hasn't been hard by any stretch of the imagination, but my position in the world is a little confusing and has left me quiet for far too long. The little bubbles identifying your race/ethnicity on doctor and test forms are easy for most people to check; they are a challenge for me. People sometimes laugh me off when I speak up, as if I should join in and laugh with them, as if I shouldn't be insulted because I'm not really part of the target of their jokes. The problem is that I am. Any time a person makes fun of a minority group, I am part of the target as a woman and a Mexican-American.
I hate that we live in a world where it isn't okay to be yourself, where people make jokes about others without understanding whose company they are in and without caring until the person being insulted speaks up. I hate that people thought this article was something impressive and not the ignorant, ill-informed piece of writing it actually is. Aren't we a melting pot of cultures? (No, more like a salad bowl.) Shouldn't you think before you speak? Shouldn't you just not be an asshat? I hate that discriminating against others because of where they came from , because of how they look, because of who they are, is still. going. on. in the United States. I mean, do you really believe that all of your relatives were born here? Because, newsflash, no one can claim that. Maybe mine didn't ride the same boat in the same way at the same time yours did, but they still got here, so, really, who cares? And what gives you the right to be racist if you're rapping along with Jay-Z in your car, eating tacos at 2 am, taking a belly dancing class, or watching Christina Yang operate on Grey's Anatomy? Perhaps, if you're doing these things, maybe you're not as racist as you seem to be. Maybe you're just being an idiot and should start working on respecting others and valuing the cultures you are regularly consuming.
What's going on in Ferguson is a damn shame. As a kid in a pretty much all-white school growing up in all-white rural Ohio, I remember learning all about racism in history class. Every year. While my culture and most others were never even mentioned, black and white were. And we were always told that we were studying our shameful history so that we wouldn't repeat it. It might be quieter now, but it is obvious that we are still repeating the same mistakes we made in the past. Maybe we're doing it in a way that is quieter, but injustice is still injustice no matter how you frame it. Racism is still racism, whether it is a screeching siren or a quiet, sideways glance. I read something the other week that called on men to step up to try and make change for women because men are the ones with power--not women. And I think, in that same sense, white people need to step up for those who are not.
I can't say that I know how to change things; I do not. I do know that if we pretend casual conversation that discriminates against anyone is okay, especially when it is going on between young people, then the whole cycle will continue, and that isn't acceptable. You can't choose where you come from, but you can choose the kind of person you are. I am one of the least confrontational people in the world, but I try to speak up when I hear things that are wrong. And I am going to try harder.
I found this video particularly amusing and simultaneously appalling, and, sadly, all too familiar. I'll be surprised if you haven't heard every one of the things said here come straight out of someone's mouth in real life. While funny in this context, it's just not funny when people are seriously saying these things at someone else's expense.