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A Gradual, Humbling Lesson of White-Passing Privilege & Allyship

April 4, 2018

My first year here at Green Mountain College has opened my mind to what it means to be an ally, what it means to be of mixed races, what it means to have the privilege of being white-passing and what I can do with that privilege to make this a better place. To disclaim: this is ENTIRELY to the credit of my peers and friends, not the administration, faculty, staff, campus spirit or the surrounding community.

Being a light skinned, half white Puerto Rican, I have never had a sense of security in my identity. People here frequently have no idea I’m Hispanic until they see my last names on paper. As a child, I was  pretty tan with a full-on mustache and unibrow, and would even tell my parents I wanted to be pale like the other kids when I came home from school. Now I am much paler, obsessively tame my facial hair, and can be easily spotted by black clothing, dyed hair and piercings. Beyond appearance, I have never aligned with common stereotypes. My abuela is a successful psychologist and has an affinity for Macy’s pantsuits. My father spends his free time doing Taekwondo. I didn’t grow up in the hood, listen to reggaeton, wear big hoop earrings, or switch back and forth between Spanish and English at the speed of light. I have had a plethora of white people tell me I don’t “look” or “seem” Hispanic, or at least not enough for their standards.

This isn't really a problem, as it gives me plenty of white privilege at best and a mild nuisance at worst. Of course the idea that any trait that deviates from racial stereotypes is a“white” trait is inherently toxic, but that's another story. Due to both my light skin and “unique” physical appearance I have been granted the privilege of reading white to most people, and that privilege certainly does not run short on this campus. At first I felt a little insulted that I was perceived as only white, but I learned that in places like Poultney that being perceived this way has given me safety from racist experiences on microaggressive and physically dangerous levels. My peers with darker skin have endured things on this campus and in the area that would make me never want to leave my room. Feeling slightly bothered about being labeled as solely one thing is laughably minuscule compared to the fear for one’s own life walking down Main Street.

This article has been written, erased and re-written about 4-5 times since January. First approaching this, I wanted to declare my pride of my Boricua heritage and the importance of paying attention to what happens after Hurricane Maria falls out of the news. However, as soon as I think I have something good to say, I learn something new here and realize I don't know a damn thing. Another voice from a student of color is finally heard, and their stories of what they have endured here are typically heartbreaking, and I am again humbled with how lucky I am to be in the position I’m in.

As this week’s events unfolded with the Black Lives Matter flag, including the administration and Bob Allen’s responses, more and more issues have arisen that I am still processing. At this point, I think as an ally the best thing I can do is admit that I don't know shit. It’s okay to not know shit as long as you are actively making the effort to know shit.

At the Community Conversation in the Gorge on Wednesday, president Bob Allen frequently didn't quite know how to answer the questions students of color were asking him. They reminded him that it is better to honestly admit that he did not know than act like he did and say something out of line.

That in particular stuck with me. Now more than ever, I think the best thing we can do as allies is keep our mouths shut and our eyes and ears open (of course, unless it is to shut down intolerance and hate, then please don't ever shut up). White students or staff that may be quaking in their boots as of late. It is best to admit that we don't know shit and that we are uncomfortable. We're supposed to be.

And to those of us who already consider ourselves dedicated allies, are part of any marginalized group, or maybe like me are partially of color or pass as white regularly, let us remember that it is never over. The work is never done. And may that never stop us.


 

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