personal musings on white passing and space
August 6, 2012
Okay. From what I can see these are the main discussions that happened yesterday/last night/recently concerning white passing people (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Now, I was travelling most of the day so I’m not really sure how inter-related the conversations are, but there appears to be maybe 3 distinct conversations happening? One is by two Metis people. One is that really good post by BlackGirlDangerous, and the last is that thing with a white passing privilege denier.
I have little comment on the Metis discussion because it is nuanced and somewhat specific to their communities (but also does a really good job of demonstrating white passing people interrogating that privilege). The BlackGirlDangerous (BGD) post and the weetz thing somewhat go together because they are talking about space and access to spaces. Now, the thing to really remember about the BGD post is that she is talking about people with grand parents or whatever who are poc and look not just white passing but are white with poc heritage. weetz was (I think) responding to a different post talking about wanting white people out of fat poc spaces.
I mostly actually want to talk about the BGD post because I think it is important and relates to the weetz business.
I’m Filipin@. My dad was born there and I grew up around my Filipin@ side only (the white side of my family lived in a different province). My mom is white Quebecois. So, I don’t fall into the category discussed by BGD. Being Filipin@ is my culture, I have direct access to it. However, my Filipin@ side has had some heavy mixing with white spanish and is fairly light skinned on their own. Mix with white and I’m super light skinned.
I rarely discuss my specific background, but it is important for this discussion. People need to know where I’m coming from.
When I was younger, I did not pass for white. I lived in a different city and, I don’t know what other factors influenced it. I was teased for having ‘slanted eyes’. I was called a ch*nk. As I grew up and people become more polite, I constantly had people asking me “what are you? what is your background? are you Chinese? Japanese?”. So. Light skin privilege but not passing.
Nowadays, however, I pass more often than not. And, may I say, that there is a large defining line between the privilege you get between being a light passing but visible versus someone who is white passing? Like enough of a difference that it still surprises me.
I never experienced the constant and violent racism that I know darker skinned people experienced. I had my own experiences which have largly stopped happening on a regular. It comes up every so often, but these days a lot of the racism I experience is because people don’t know that I’m not white or it is systematic when people have more than my skin to judge by.
All of this to say, that white spaces (while not exactly safe for me) are also not dangerous. It is possible that I could choose to say nothing when white people invariably start saying the racist shit they say when they think only white people are around. I could say nothing. I could spare myself the lovely experience of having that hate directed to my personally, instead of just being ambient hate or whatever.
But that is what this discussion about space is really about. Choice. I can and could choose to access white spaces. And while it wouldn’t be good for my mental health, it would be safe enough. Few white people would attack me. I have options and choices. And lets be honest, we all (sadly) must make some bargains with power in order to eat, make a living, etc.
The whole point to this privilege is that I have better bargains available to me. I can and could still choose to buy into white supremacy. I could decide to get my piece of the pie by following the well trodden path of many other oppressed people and start shitting on dark skinned poc. It is easy. White supremacy well rewards those people willing to support its tenets, especially if you are light enough to pass.
And this choice is *exactly* why I’m dangerous to dark skinned poc. Why my presence in those spaces could be triggering or threatening. Or make the space unsafe. I have this power to choose.
PoC only spaces are (and should be) a sanctuary for those people who cannot escape racism based on skin colour. It should be a place for commiseration, comfort, healing, solace, joy, etc. Spaces like this are deeply, deeply necessary. And they fail to serve their purpose if the people who need them most feel unsafe. This isn’t about skin policing, gate keeping, or anything about that.
Because we can all be nuanced about this. Nuanced about the spaces we create and for whom they are created. Maybe I’ll only go to white-free spaces and not PoC only in the future. Can you see the difference?
It is interesting how well I feel and understand the BGD article. I recently had that experience myself, where entering a poc space and seeing a blonde haired, blue eyed, whiter than me person (in this particular space everyone thought I was Latin@). It is jarring and makes the space different when you see people like this (she was a white Hispanic… yay for the american census!).
We also need to be clear about how all of this relates to identities, since that often seems to be why white passing people get all defensive and start shitting on people. PoC is a political label used for solidarity and cross race organizing. It should not be treated as an identity in and of itself (do correct me if I’m wrong). If you’ve become over invested in it and are white passing you should really reflect on why that might be. Especially if this investment means that you begin acting life a privileged shit head.
You are who you are. No one can take that away from you. Whether or not I have access to PoC only spaces will not change the fact that I’m Filipin@ mixed with white. Also, my current white passing does not change the fact that I was once (and occassionally still am) visible. My experiences are my own. My identity is my own. Forever and always.
You are who you are. But if you can’t figure out ways to be that person without shitting on people who you are privileged over? You, at the very least, suffer from a lack of imagination and/or, at the very worst, are upholding white supremacy. If you cannot find ways to discuss your own experiences with racism, white supremacy, and colonialism without appropriating or relying on your own personal experience? You are a shitty person exploiting the pain of others for your own gain.
If you are these things, you are exactly the reason why poc only spaces need and should exclude people like us. Expecting people you shit on to welcome you with wide open arms shoes and reveals how much you are still wallowing and mired in your privilege.