06 September, 2011

Invisible People of Color

Because I am incredibly self-absorbed, I am going to highjack my post for the day so I can get up on a soap box to talk about a subject I find very confusing. And which is one that is a little difficult to talk about sensitively. And since I do not love doing things the difficult way, I'm going to take the easy road, AGAIN, and pretend that you all understand that I am a caring person, and everything I say is really much funnier than it actually is.

I'm going to talk about Race.

I am actually a minority! Most people who are not related to me do not know much of the racial mixing or melting pot work that went into creating the person like me. I don't even know all of it! But I'll tell you what I do know.

Like everybody else, ever, I have eight great-grandparents. And like most people over the age of 12, they are all dead now. They came in a great variety of religions, cultures, and colors, and plenty of them picked one other than their own to spawn with, and I am literally willing to thank God for that, if he cares. Because otherwise I would not be here, and I love this place!

Half of my great grandmothers were alive when I was born, and half of those, I remember. Because she lived to be 103. Yay!

She was of primarily western european descent, as far as I know. Austria has been mentioned. Her husband was also primarily of western european descent, including some from England or Ireland or Scotland, along with whatever else went into his parents. They were probably both Catholic.

The other great-grandma that I probably met as a baby was literally, herself, from Turkey. Of spanish descent. And a Jew. I think her husband was exactly the same, but I haven't heard as much about him as I have my great-grandma. Maybe women tell women's stories to girls, and men tell men's stories to men? Which I don't get to hear because I am a girl? Whole nother can of worms that I will readily open at some later date, which I also don't worry that much about. Except I hate to miss out on a good story!

I am ready to suggest that I don't care that much about racial diversity. I like it, don't get me wrong. I am here on this planet because people are totally willing to personally embrace some of that racial diversity. And so am I.

But I care more about actual community than racial diversity, and the two things seem like they might be a little bit at cross purposes. Though they are definitely not incompatible, because I've got both at the same time. But I'm in a number of communities, and they are not all racially diverse. Though some of them get more racially diverse when I show up, and less when I leave, if that's not too opaque. Which I am totally ok with, both ways. I'm not really sure about how I feel about all the points in this paragraph, so feel free to tear it apart--it helps me understand how I feel about things more clearly, especially if I totally disagree with you. And I digress.

Back to my personal story of the mixing of the races.

I have some other 'racial' elements from my father's side. I've heard Cherokee, and I've heard Choctaw, and I've heard baptist, which isn't even a race, though of course it is a community and a religion. But I never even met these grandparents, who were actually both born before the last century. And I have heard very little about these great-grandparents. Not much about origin stories like this one. Which is my origin story.

Am I legally a minority, because of those jewish great grandparents of spanish descent? I rarely enjoy claiming my 'due', because I, like a great many other very confused people of 'color', including about half of the first cousins I have met, am invisible AS a person of color.

The indigenous peoples element doesn't really come up because I am far more separated from those communities, perhaps because those people, my antecedents, were more excited by assimilation and integration than dealing with the man as 'other'. Or maybe they weren't excited at all, but saw it as the lesser of two evils--far more likely. And it's just barely possible that they married into new tribes without really examining what they were giving up other than in the normal nostalgia generated by leaving something you love behind. It is also, sadly, ALL too possible that there was coercion involved.

In coloring, I do not match my mother. Or my sister, who is much closer to mom than I, but not matchy-matchy either. I am probably a cross between my maternal grandmother and my father, but since I am not yet as old as they were when I met them, I have trouble evaluating that.

In my elementary school, they had a native american studies pull-out program, where they pulled out kids of native ancestry and taught them about local native culture in public school. These days I think they teach it to the whole class. They pulled out my sister, I do not really know why. She probably spoke up. Or maybe, in her case, they did just assume. And since she has been looking out for me all my life, she asked why I wasn't pulled out too. They assumed I wasn't that closely related to her, because I was probably the one blonde kid in native american studies, after they sorted it out and accepted me in the program too.

Just for reference, my color may be that which is commonly referred to peaches and cream, by people who are particularly generous. Often I am quite pasty. I, like everybody else on this planet, did not pick it, and I, unlike some of them, am not proud of it. My hair is no longer blonde

It shows dirt readily, which is a mark against it, and the actual skin is much more frail than that of almost everybody I know, including most of my family. But it is mine, it keeps the guts in and some of the cold and most of the bugs out, so I do admit to loving it no matter what color it shows.

Hopefully some of you do too. I know I love a lot of your skins almost as well.

And I want to make sure I bring up another important point that adds to my confusion. Now I feel a very profound sense of belonging. With other people of all kinds. And maybe that is part of something I have, as someone who 'passes' as white, so to speak. Here in the USA.

White Privilege. White Privilege is the collection of benefits that us pale folk get showered upon us without hardly even trying.

I do not intend to dismiss or minimize the effects of White Privilege. Which, I think, are usually benefits that 'us' white people assume everybody else is actually already getting, or taking for themselves, in some way or another. I went over it in the schoolroom somewhere, a little bit. And in actual real life, a fair amount.

It is extremely hard to identify one's own privileges, as almost everyone who has ever felt like a self-made-man can probably attest to.

Passing, though, I totally get what that is like. Both in the communities where I pass, as someone 'obviously' a member of the predominant culture, and from the communities where I stick out like a sore thumb.

Which, technically, is almost all of them. Because I am a weirdo. I am a squeaky wheel. I am always doing something unexpected.

And I'm bad at keeping that a secret.

I must thank every community that has welcomed and invited me inside to share with me. It's much harder to learn about diversity from the outside. We are all a little uncomfortable with customs we are not familiar with. And we are all a little defensive.

Edited to add: A great article on this topic came out since I wrote the above (or at least I read it after.) The author talks seriously about the issue of segregation in my actual community of origin, Seattle, including some comments about the high school I graduated from that I had never heard before. But totally 'get', as someone who attended classes on pretty much every floor. Sometimes I really do believe in zeitgeist.

Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk Awkwardly About Race - Deeply Embarrassed White People Talk Awkwardly About Race

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