passing or not

April 18, 2009 § 7 Comments

1. i am interested in narratives from folks who could ‘pass’ for white but instead have chose to identify as people of color.

2. wondering if those european ethnics who chose not to be whtie ended up (after a few generations) mixing into poc communitites and thus their children/grandchildren lost that ability to ‘pass’ and thus lost that ability to choose to identify as people of color and were simply racialized on looks alone.

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§ 7 Responses to passing or not

  • Aaminah Hernandez says:

    Mai’a, i am a self-identified poc that could pass. i am half Native/Indigenous, and half Scots-Irish. In terms of skin tone, the Scots-Irish definitely took over, LOL, though some of my features betray the the Native. 🙂 i am not ashamed of my Scots-Irish heritage at all, so by identifying as Native i am not trying to erase my European blood; i have some knowledge and absolute respect for Celtic history & culture. But it is the Native side that is most evident in how i see the world, and blends with my Islamic culture. As a Muslim woman who also wears abaya and hijab, and has worn niqab at times as well, i am assumed to be non-white by others. Some poc take offense to that and say that since i “could” pass for white if i didn’t “choose to dress weird” then i really am white and should not say anything about being discriminated against because i “choose” to be othered. Yet my heart and collective memory is very in tune with the oppression that my people (Native) have lived with for so long, and i most certainly deal with nearly daily oppression as a Muslim woman in this society. The reality is that i don’t understand or feel comfortable in white culture or surrounded by white people, and that was true even before i became Muslim.

    • mama says:

      @aaminah
      yeah i wonder if this is part of too. just where do you feel most comfortable. with whom.
      like i compare it to being college educated and middle class. i can easily pass for college educated. normally i do. this is because i am better well read than most people with a masters degree in literary criticism. but just because i can pass…doesnt mean that i am college educated. you know? one is the performance. the other is the reality.
      so i end up outing myself. constantly. and i know that to some folks that is like me – choosing- to make other uncomfortable. or choosing to be seen as inferior. choosing to be othered.
      but really want i am choosing is to say that my reality/experience/truth is authentic and valuable and deserves respect. because i am a human being.
      and by doing so i am also saying that your truth also deserves that.

  • nezua says:

    mezcla, i can pass. it all depends on how much hair i have (the more facial and head hair, the more latino i seem to look), summer or not (i can get very very dark if i’m out in the sun enough but up north or out of the sun, my skin can get pretty light but for an olive tint), or who is looking. some know no matter what. latinos usually. mexicanos. and some have it built in not to see (usually whites who want you to be one of them with all the “youre not like the Other Mexicans” tho its not just them to be fair of course)

    but…its not so much about “choice” even tho an outside person might frame it that way. how much “choice” is it after all, when you still feel inside like a mexican when you smell corn or taste habanero or hear someone say “spic” or see a beautiful indian woman or a temple with steps or olmec style art…and how much “choice” is it when you can never can feel confident that you are “passing” because you can “pass” or think you are for six months straight and then a 50 year old mujer at the airport turns to you and begins speaking in Spanish, or the woman at the fair selling tickets does the same, but not to the person before you? you never feel safe in passing if every nth person sees what you cannot even see to cover up.

    and it becomes natural then to just relax into who you are. not to deny the euro side (tho there is challenge in integrating all this) but not to hide from the rest either. i’m not even saying its over, this coming to understanding. i think the mezcla experience, the mixed experience, the hybrid stylie is a story that we really are just beginning to tell, the liminal experience, it draws many of us together when you think about it.

    i’ve written so much on this, you can read in my original blog at /elgrito. put hours and hours into this topic.

  • mama says:

    i guess i use the word -choice- because i have known women who had one parent of color and yet identified strongly as white. i am thinking of two women in specific.
    the first: was raised by her latina mother. but said that dealing with issues like race were too complicated so she just identified as white. plus she felt that her latina cousins didnt consider her to be -really- latina. and when i asked her why she didnt identify as a poc, instead she identified as a white latina, in the ensuing weeks she seemed to have a mental/emotional break down of sorts. like she could barely breathe the first time she identified herself as a poc in a public space. like she was coming out.
    the second: was raised by her white mother and black father. and said that she identified as white because she didnt want to be exoticized because her father was black and she felt like she would be taking away from – real- woc by claiming to be one. she said it like she was doing it from a position of solidarity with woc. and i said: exoticism is a form of racism. so it sounds like to me, you just dont want to deal with racism.
    so i guess i am wondering why do some -mixed- folks identify as white and other dont?
    and i guess i am wondering this in part because i have a -mixed- baby myself who i think will be just brown enough to not -pass- as white and i wonder how she will identify.
    and i am thinking about how most african-americans/slave descendants are part native. i think the average black person in the usa is 25 percent native. and yet we dont identify as mixed. you know? even though a good amount of afr-am cultural practices are native.
    and i am thinking about being in mexico and having this conversation with a mexican woman who called aza: mulatto. and i said: no, mestiza. and then the next morning, the mexican woman said to me that ‘mestiza’ was what ‘we are called’, in that mestiza means white and native. and mulatto means white and black. and i broke down the meaning of the word mulatto and why i dont use it to describe anybody esp. my child. and then i pointed out that my kid did have native ancestry. and that lots of mexicans have african ancestry.
    and i am thinking about how it seemed in southern mexico folks said there was no racism in mexico because everyone is mestizo, even though i experienced plenty of racism. plenty. in mexico. and there were few mexicans who seemed to think that they had any significant african ancestry.
    and i am thinking about the black radical congress i went to in 1998 and how black meant african-ancestry and thus obviously included latinos. no, it didnt include latinos. it was assumed that if you were latino, then you were black. no question.
    and i am thinking about how when i was growing up my mother would sit and try to figure out who had what in them. like: see, that girl has some black in her. you can tell by the skin color and the hair. and that girl has some indian in her. and i wonder what race his parents are? he must be mixed.
    and i am thinking about my family. how we are all shades from black black to white black can pass. and we are all black. and that is just the way it is.

  • […] 19, 2009 · No Comments this is a response to aaminah and nezua comments here 1. i am interested in narratives from folks who could ‘pass’ for white but instead have chose […]

  • […] I wrote about in response to a post on Guerilla Mama Medicine, my own youthful attempts to “pass” as “white” had to do with certain […]

  • Jose says:

    The problem with any discussion of race that focuses on “choice” is that it assumes that any individual can choose their identity alone. As some of the commentators have said, others also choose for us. They certainly choose for us because of we may have a non-white color. But I think they also choose for us (what we are) because of the flare of our noses, the shape of our faces, we remind them of a relative, the open and warm look in our eyes, because they remind of our grandmothers, because our hopes and fears are wrapped up in them, etc. Identity is history and community rather than just an individual process.

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