Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On Reverse Racism and Wishful Thinking, or On Being White

When I was a little girl, I used to pretend I wasn't white.  Did any of the rest of you do that?  My name was Gabriella Romero, I was Hispanic (not from a particular country; I was just Hispanic), and my hair looked like this. Sure, I was probably influenced by Sesame Street, Ghostwriter, and other such shows that made a point of racial/ethnic diversity.  But even more than that was my firsthand experience of tightly knit families with a strong cultural identity.

According to Wikipedia (which quotes the US Census Bureau), my hometown is made up of approximately 25% White, 23% Hispanic/Latino, 20% Indian (from India), 10% African American, 8% Asian, and 14% Misc/Other.  So it's no surprise that my grammar school graduating class of 24 had about even numbers of Puerto Rican, Punjabi Indian, Filipino, with maybe twice as many whites as any one other group.  My best friend from the middle school years, Shevy, is so Indian that in her extended family, only the kids speak English or wear street clothes in the house (and even then, only sometimes).  When Alyssa first came over from the Philippines at age four, she and I became friends despite the language barrier, so thoroughly that our immediate families come to each other's extended family gatherings.  Distant Filipino "relatives" I don't even recognize (and I have a pretty good memory for faces) have come up to me and said, "Hi, Claire, how are you? How's college in Ohio? You're almost done, right?" (Note that this is the only English they'd speak at a given party).

Many of the friends I made at youth group were Hispanic (let's be honest: most of the friends I made at youth group were Boriqua!), which just showed me another side of what I was missing.  My high school had a large Haitian population, and I received what I felt were high compliments when these girls welcomed me as one of their own.  In short: I lived in the thick of the racial/ethnic melting pot, and I loved every second of it!

Enter college.  I don't know the exact statistics for my alma mater, but I think it's safe to say that the campus is at least 85% white (and that's being generous to the minorities).  I learned that diversity doesn't have to mean that you're not white, and found out quite a lot about ways of life in different parts of the United States.  But I was still aware of how ridiculously, unrealistically white our campus was.

It's not that I spend a lot of time in ethnically diverse communities anymore, even though I'm back home where such communities exist.  Part of my desire for a cultural identity has been met in my discovery of Catholic culture, something that has belonged to me all along.  It helps, too, that I now know how to cook a few signature Polish dishes, so I feel like I at least have that going for me.

But I'm still white.  There is a satirical blog called Stuff White People Like.  It is absolutely hilarious, well-written, and remarkably accurate.  And I cannot read it.  It makes me downright uncomfortable with being white.  I have actually caught myself trying to change who I naturally am because it fits into the stereotype so effectively mocked on that site.  A few weeks ago, when I was in LA, I found myself very irked by the system of "White Points" that Aaron applied to things (e.g., shopping at Trader Joe's, buying organic), though his comments were very funny and were appreciated by all around us.

Which brings me to a realization: Some part of me, deep down, is actually uncomfortable with the fact that I'm white!  On one level, I relish my whiteness.  I know intellectually that I have it easy because racism won't really ever be a factor in my life.  I also thoroughly enjoy European things - cultures, food, languages, their whole way of life.  And a lot of the stereotypically white activities are things that I /do/ really enjoy.  Heck, I'm more attracted to white men.  But on the other hand, there is a beauty and a mystery and a coolness that comes with being, well, not white, that I will never know.  Perhaps it's just the allure of the exotic.  But whatever it is, I need to let it go.  Because I am white, and I always will be white.  And it's about time I got over it.

EDIT: I have learned that reverse racism is quite a bit more ridiculous than what I've described, but I'm not changing the URL.


  1. Claire, I know what you mean... partly. I also grew up in a primarily Hispanic, Asian, African American, and Philipino community. However I embraced my cultural differences as a minority very early on. The amount of Quinceaneras I attended as a young lad were, well, outrageous.

    Side story, I was given an honorary "Black" card when I worked at Lowes Home Improvement Center in Jersey city for being the only white person working in the store who was not management.

  2. I had kind of the opposite experience growing up - my town was very white. The interesting thing was that we were so strongly indoctrinated against racism that being around minorities, particularly black people, would make me nervous. It was dangerous - like standing at the edge of the grand canyon. If I accidentally said something that could be misinterpreted as racist, that would be the Worst. Thing. Ever. Shame from which you could never recover.

  3. Wait, you're white?

    Also: I solved this same conundrum by just identifying strongly with one of my various pasty lineages (it helps to be relatively recent arrivals) for differentiation from the masses.

    Also, deuce: I need to know: who is "whiter", me or ELE?

  4. Also: my randomly generated confirmation code was just "clatu". Isn't that Klingon or something?

    I... I didn't know who else to tell.


  5. I just got referenced in a blog! ^_^

  6. Clatu is from the classic 1950's Sci Fi movie "The Day The Earth Stood Still" It was also referenced in Sam Raimi's classic Zombie/Time Travel/Horror/Comedy "Army of Darkness"

    But seriously, being Klingon is tough... what with the federation always trying to keep you down.

    I want an award for nerdiest comment ever on your blog Claire...

  7. Aaron: This isn't the first time, nor will it be the last.

    Will: Nerdiest comment ever on my blog? Thus far, you hold the title. But you've got tough competition, with this readership. :)

  8. My 8th grade class had 26 people, and wasn't very diverse at all. There was one Filipino, four Hispanics, and 21 Whites. There were no Indian people at St Joe's at all back then. And everyone there was Catholic. What a difference 20 years makes, huh? But Mrs Abello still teachers there. :-)

  9. I just saw this post but let me say -- I felt the same way. Then when I learned that I am technically classified as a White Hispanic (because I am of Spanish descent AND born in the U.S. -- my normally light skin has nothing to do with it), I became uncomfortable with the term and was afraid of losing my Hispanic heritage. Ay, so confusing...


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