I have been trying to understand race and identity my entire life and it has been a complicated road. My mother is white and my father is a hispanic immigrant from El Salvador. Being multi ethnic (I guess I’m not biracial since hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race..?) is absolutely confusing, and in my 26 years and many hours of reading about race and identity, I’m not sure I’ve figured things out. While I culturally may not be very openly hispanic it doesn’t matter, because my brown skin is what people see first. When they meet me they make a judgement based on my skin tone and my name. There are opinions and stereotypes that people have about me and how ‘my people’ act. For this reason I have to think carefully about how I conduct myself in an academic setting and how I approach challenging discussions of race and where/when I choose to speak up. Frankly, I don’t have much of a filter on this topic and regularly call out what I appear to be biases, but it is incredibly draining sometimes.
For this blog post, I decided to respond to several comments that stuck out to me in the ‘Dismantling Racism in Education’ podcast:
(1) “Because I’m brown that doesn’t make me a diversity expert or an expert on race”
Oh man, if I had a dollar for every time this has come up. So true. I understand the desire to have representation on panels discussing race, but I wouldn’t say that I am the expert on race. Like Sara said in the podcast, I have lived experiences that are unique to my white colleagues. For that reason I am more comfortable navigating the conversation of race, but that doesn’t mean the whole thing should be put on me to teach others what is wrong and right.
(2) “White Privilege”
Again, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve tried to navigate explaining this one. I appreciated the breakdown and separation of white privilege from social/economic privilege. These are two different things that should not be confused. White privilege is so closely tied to representation, being able to see your face represented and being able to see your experiences represented as the norm. That is white privilege. White privilege is ignoring that police brutality is a thing because as a white person you don’t have negative experiences with police officers, so how could anyone else? (Insert face palm emoji)
(3) “It costs white people nothing to speak up”
Yasssss. Please. Do speak up. For me. When I speak up, I’m considered an angry brown woman. Any time I bring up race or point out biases that my white peers have, I can guarantee you that going through someones head is ‘the race card again,’ and that is exhausting. Knowing that I can keep bringing up what I believe to be wrong, but then I get pegged as the continually angry person pointing out race problems. But why do I always have to be the one to say something. If we see ourselves as progressives, then it should be just as evident for me that something is racist as it is to the person next to me.
(4) “Many of us are reluctant to speak up because we don’t have the expertise”
I have heard this a lot, and I agree, as a white person you may not have the expertise, and I appreciate you admitting that upfront. So here’s what you can do. Educate yourselves. Please. Take the time to listen and respect others opinions. Listen, appreciate, and understand that those experiences are real. Do not question that experience just because you have never experienced it. That is what I would say, listen, and respect perspectives that are not your own. Practice becoming comfortable with conversations and situations that make you uncomfortable, that’s how we make change.