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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.

HotCoals

17 Comments leave one →
  1. December 23, 2012 4:28 PM

    Honored that someone else sees it like it is. I especially relate to “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.” Not only is there “no way to detour, there is not point.” Unfortunately, very few see this. Very few. With respect, Iliana

    • December 23, 2012 4:55 PM

      Not only is there “no way to detour,” there is no point.

      That is very true. No matter how hard we work to get on the other path, we are not in control of the fence that prevents us from reaching it.

  2. January 4, 2013 4:20 AM

    This is beautifully, beautifully written. I am the Mother of three mixed race children and it has pained me at times to see the struggles they have faced, struggles that are not faced by all of their peers. Thank You for sharing this.

  3. Larissa Walrond permalink
    August 29, 2013 11:29 PM

    Hey, I really liked reading this, I’m not white in Canada and have had a totally different experience. It’s taken me a really long time to get used to the idea of being “of colour” because it’s just not how I was raised and Canada is just really different towards people “of colour” and I’m pretty pale so alot of the time nobody treats me any different. which is good. and sometimes it’s aweful because they assume the can “be racist” and it’s ok because they assume no one around would care….

    • August 29, 2013 11:34 PM

      I get that a lot too, because culturally, I am white. I grew up with my white mother and with white cultural expectations. Leaving her home was a series of rude awakenings, let me tell you.

      • Larissa Walrond permalink
        August 29, 2013 11:41 PM

        see I was raised with both my parents my dad is dark my mom is light and I was one of a handful of kids not white in my area. I was just never an issue until.

  4. Jennifer permalink
    August 16, 2015 1:16 AM

    The historical oppression of those who are different has been passed over in the general education curriculum, why I don’t know. From the colonial days there has been a hierarchical view of societal members; honoring those who are not deemed “different” from the WASP in our American society. Unfortunately, people of color have a label of judgement that sticks to them based only on appearance and the naive association of negatives that are presumed. This archaic ideology is an insidious component in the structure of society still and it is what those of color face alone; members of the white community can only summize on this state of reality.

  5. November 13, 2016 7:43 AM

    Thank you.

  6. November 13, 2016 9:30 AM

    I love your approach to these issues. Full disclosure here: I’m an older (64) cis white straight male – the most privileged demographic most people will ever encounter. I’m a long way from rich, but my wife and I are reasonably comfortable. My wife is mixed Jewish/Chinese, but usually is accepted as white, even though a close look shows her Asian heritage. Me? I’m as white as can be. We both are painfully aware of the divide between us and the “non-white” members of our society; we have many friends of various minorities – gatherings at our house often look like a UN meeting. Not boasting, just saying that we try to do our part to make a comfortable space for people of all shapes, sizes, colours, genders, orientations and whatever – people are people. Not saying we don’t see colour – of course we do! It’s part of what makes a person who they are, but it should not define them entirely.
    Not sure where I’m going with this. I started by just wanting to congratulate you on your courage, your approach, and your outspoken stance on these issues. Thank you for creating this space!

  7. Kimberley Camera permalink
    November 14, 2016 10:27 AM

    Thank you for your writing and your posts.

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