On Being Not White In America
For People of Color every moment of every day of our lives is informed and defined by the fact that we are PoC. To fail to think about culture that way could get us very, very killed.
Being not white in America is something like walking across hot coals every day, all day long and sometimes you step down wrong or one of the coals is just hotter than the others, or someone throws one at your damn head. That hurts over and above the normal everyday pain. But it’s not just that.
The pain? That’s something that you just get used to, like the ache of the shoulder that you wrenched when you were in high school. It still hurts but you don’t notice unless something happens to irritate it. Sometimes though, sometimes you look up from your journey and you see that your road isn’t the only one. There are other roads and one of them is smooth and clear and covered in soft cool grass. The people on that road are moving so fast and so easily and no matter what you do you cannot catch them. You try and you try and the people on that road just keep passing you. And then you look back at your own path and it hurts even worse.
There’s a point, when you’re a child before you realize that your path is different, when you believe the “all you have to do is try hard and you’ll succeed,” story that is a part of our national mythology, when you are innocent and not jaded and wary. Then one day, someone points out the path you have to walk for the rest of your life and you slowly realize that no matter how hard you try, There’s no way to detour.
That’s what it’s like to be not White in America. And I’m using that terms deliberately. We are trained to believe that which is “American” is white. Anything else is suspect and easily painted as something other than “American.”
As someone of mixed race, the pain is even more insidious because we see the other path even more clearly. As someone who is half white, I watched my white cousins and peers walk their own path right next to me. We can see that while it has rough patches it is so much less hazardous than our own. People we know, people who share our last name and at least half of our DNA walk that path, but we aren’t allowed on it because there’s a huge fence that we cannot scale.
Most of the people on that other path won’t look at us. Some of them are confused as to why the hell we’re over here on the coals when the grass is so much nicer. Some of that group are actively trying to direct us to the grass. Like we can’t see it and don’t know it’s easier to walk on the cool grass. Could you stop doing that? Some of the people berate us for staying on that path of coals because why would anyone stay there unless they were too lazy or too stupid to leave.
Most of them don’t see the fence that keeps us on the coals, because for them it doesn’t exist.