Living With(in) Whiteness

Conversations regarding race never seems to be ending in our society, especially in the rapidly changing political landscape of the United States today. Our racial and ethnic identities are woven into our everyday lives, whether we like it or not. People do see colors, whether they want to admit it or not.

That’s not a negative notion, not at all. People should see colors, and people need to; otherwise, they are essentially dismissing the struggle colored people have been through as mistakes of the past; as distant history lessons; as though racism and discrimination is not still deepy embedded in the core of our instutional system of America; as though we are not yelling, kicking, thrashing, fighting, begging everyday to be alive, to be human

For the most part of my life, people didn’t see my color, and I allowed it to happen.

I come from Southeast Asia, which gives me a fairly light complexion in comparison to others in the colored community. My skin tone is dark enough for people to avoid me and discard my ideas as a "minority voice" when I raise my hand in class, but light enough that I don’t experience clear out-in-the-daylight profiling and discrimination. Moving to the United States, I found that I was of a greater advantage than most in adjusting due to my complexion and fluid English pronunciation. I made friends, laughed at their subtle racial jokes, dumbing myself down, all to fit in, to be “cool,” unfazed and definitely not a “snowflake.” I compared myself to the 1950’s beauty standards of American women (or the popular cheerleader), went home, and left my insecurities and distorted thoughts of myself everyday on my nightstand the next day before leaving for school.

Though vocal about concepts of equality and equity for all, I was burdened with the thought of my hypocrisy in the colored community. My “acting white” was the easy way out, playing by the rules of the white man to succeed, but I lost my sense of self and identity in the process. I simplified my cultural traditions to be understood, I avoided speaking of the fascinating folktales I grew up with to be approachable, I went against my values to be relatable, I censored my heritage to be a duplication of whiteness.

For what?

My partner recently wrote me a handwritten letter in his time at boot camp, and between his lines of cheesiness and sentimental loving confessions, he told me that he missed me with my constant nagging, and my sarcasm, and my impossible-to-please attitude, and my inedible food and how I put salt in my coffee instead of sugar this one time--this list goes on and on.

That seemingly insignificant detail, however, did bring me to an epiphany on myself. My partner told me he loved me with my quirks, not despite them. Like the lover of language that I am, this use of words fascinated me and prompted me to reflect. I, too, love my partner with his quirks, not despite them. I love him and how he makes me laugh in the most serious circumstances, his passionate love for fast food, his refusal to throw out his brown cowboy boots that I do hate, his falling asleep at either 9 PM or 9 AM, how he tries to annoyingly learn my mother tongue to understand me more and to tell my mother that her food is the best he’s ever had, and more.

I can love another human being to their whole, so why don’t I do so with myself?

I need to love myself with all I’ve got, with my quirks, not despite them. I need to love my culture, my values, my traditions, because those are all damn good enough for me, just as good as any other for anyone. I need to liberate myself from the constraints of whiteness, because my culture and my experience is woven into who I was, am, and will be as a person, and I will talk about those with the adoration and respect they rightfully deserve with anyone who wants to know, anyone who is willing to know me. I am done begging and pleading for my rights to be a female of color, to be a human being. I am here to demand, to fight, to be.

People of color, I sincerely ask of you to do the same. Rid yourself of the burden of acting white. Bring your everything into the conversation. Do not ask for validation and approval from the white man. Do not walk into a room unless you are walking whole. Do not leave anything by the nightstand. Love yourself entirely.