October 9, 2012
by Mia McKenzie
Lately, the question of who is white and who isn’t keeps coming up in my life. I have had many talks with friends in recent months about what it means to be POC, and about who is claiming that identity and why. At a recent reading I did at the University of…
this is ridiculously brilliant.
in addition, i find over and over that whiteness privilege (the ability to “pass”) being conflated with white privilege (the ability to go through life without thinking about race or its function as an oppressive/dehumanizing institution) to be a simplifying of something that’s incredibly complicated. from reading this, it appears the author may be speaking to/about folks who identify as POC but can pass as white (or are perceived as “culturally functional”) in the eyes of those with power. In my mind, these perceptions in the U.S. tend to be aligned with more assimilated Asian Americans, Latin@s with European ancestry, and/or miscegenated POC.
while undeniably important (imperative!) to always be pushing ourselves and one another to examine the role that any privilege (whether relative or absolute) plays, i’d argue it’s equally as important to be mindful of the ways divide and conquer strategies have been used time and again by white supremacist thought, to delegitimize the authenticity of different groups and individuals (i.e. the labeling of “house” vs. “field” slaves, creating blood % quotients amongst indigenous/1st nation folks, model minority stereotypes, etc.) in efforts to pit them against one another.
if this article had been titled, “How to Know if You Pass as White,” i’d be in full agreement with her. however, as Nella Larsen wrote back in the day about her fictional mixed race protagonist - who traversed white spaces in perpetual terror that she would be found out as a woman of African ancestry - “passing,” can in many ways be aptly articulated as death/dying/suicide.
Keeping in line with the author’s original title, i’d personally add the following questions:
- Has genocide been historically passed down to you through your ancestors and pushed/pulled you to move away from your indigenous ancestry and towards identifying as “white”? If not, you may be white.
- Do you often hear people say things you aren’t meant to hear (i.e. dehumanizing speech targeting your family members, ancestors, and self)? If not, you may be white.
- Have you ever repeatedly witnessed people who resemble your family members and ancestors being degraded and/or made invisible within the mainstream media and pop culture, causing you to un/knowingly internalize hatred of them as well as your self? If not, you may be white.
not articulating the distinction between whiteness and white privilege, and refuting the authenticity of POCs who can pass as white and/or “culturally functional,” risks severing relationships w potential allies who may influence those in power. by not articulating the distinction between whiteness and white privilege, POCs whose phenotype does not allow them to “pass,” may in turn become sub-oppressors who leave their family members and/or potential allies in a space of isolation, whereupon everyone is left fending for themselves.