As long as I can remember I have lived in two worlds. I grew up in a small desert town where a large tree down the street was considered one of very few mildly entertaining places to hang out. You might use the word “dusty” to describe Waddell, Arizona at the time. It was a quiet, middle class neighborhood, but more diverse than most places in Arizona, which tends to be divided geographically by race and income. I went to elementary school with the children of power plant workers, migrant farmers and truck drivers. It was a pretty simple existence that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. I loved visiting my mom in the city. There was noise and grit, convenience stores, loud music, rambunctious cousins and the occasional drive-by which I was never awake for, but heard stories about the next day or the following weekend. I would go home to the burbs after a visit to what I thought was an oasis of gas station Cheetos and stolen cable, and I would not utter a word to my friends about the secret weekend life of a wannabe city kid.
There’s this geographic split in my brain, but the more enduring one is quite literally ingrained in my skin – I am biracial.
Most of us are these days, so it’s nothing terribly special or glamorous, but it does come with a certain set of weird internal struggles that are both mundane and life changing. My dad was a child of a surly Mexican man and a mild mannered Swedish woman. My mom is the daughter of two Chicano parents who raised five children in easily one of the worst neighborhoods in Phoenix.
So here I am, kinda white and rural, kinda brown and city. Never enough of either to really fit in anywhere. But that’s not what this blog is about.
I would identify myself as a person of color (POC) because not only am I quite literally brown, but I cannot deny that I have the blood of Native Americans, Mexicans and all sorts of Mestizo in between-ness that began shaping who I was before I was a tiny dot in my mother’s womb. I have also experienced white privilege. I don’t speak with an accent, my parents are “Americanized”, the schools I went to were pretty OK, and almost all of my friends were white, which has a way of giving you privilege through osmosis on certain occasions.
I am a minority person who’s been able to experience certain aspects of white privilege, but I have also experienced the flip side. I was looked over for advanced classes early on. Even though I had almost perfect grades throughout middle school. I saw mediocrity lifted up above me and I didn’t understand why. One of the first times I became conscious of my skin color was at the mall. I used to shop by myself while my grandpa sat on a bench and judged people. I distinctly remember the laser focus of the Claire’s manager on me as I perused the selection of cheap sweat shop jewelry. I naively wondered, “Why are you staring at ME?” I looked around at the other people in store doing the exact same thing I was, but she was staring me down so intently that I left sans hemp choker (ahh… the 90s). And even now, as a fairly confident 32 year old woman, shopping at high end stores is the worst kind of social experiment. I’m just ignored because I don’t look like money.
We have to remember that racism and oppression isn’t always bombastic like white robes and swastikas. It is quiet and pervasive like cancer. Just because you don’t personally see it, it doesn’t mean it is not there slowly poisoning the whole system.
We are in what feels like an apex of senseless violence and hatred in this country I have passionately defended during anti-American rants while living overseas, the country I have been embarrassed by, the country that has equally betrayed and coddled me. The fissure in my identity caused by the duality of my life burns furiously, making me go inward and ask, “Which side are you on?” It’s all grey area until it’s your child, your spouse, your friend, your city, your race. That grey area of indifference is just as powerful and evil as a gun in the hands of mass murderer or a racist law enforcer.
We have to examine with great patience, emotional intelligence and great detail what made US this way. WE have a problem. It’s not mine, it’s not yours, and it’s not theirs. This is our problem.
It has always been this way. You just get to see it streaming live now. Manifest destiny was built on the backs of brown people, black people, Asian people, young men and women uniforms, not yet old enough to drink, but old enough to die for a rich old man’s politics.
It was always bloody, always violent. Now it is ever-present on the tablet your child uses to play Angry Birds. Will it make a difference when we see it up close? Or will we continue to say “It’s not me. It’s not my neighborhood. It’s not my race. I follow the rules. It’s not my problem.” It is your problem and if you don’t think it is, you are a part of it.