When speaking as a social justice and human rights advocate, I often identify my perspectives as those of a trans woman of color, not only to highlight the unique forms of violence and oppression we often face, but also as a broader reminder of intersectional dynamics in general. In most cases, it’s not something I have to explain or justify, however, there have occasionally been those who (much to my frustration) have asked how I could dare speak as a person of color, when I am (apparently) “white,” or at least “white-passing.” It was the same pointed question one of my own white acquaintances put to me recently in response to a series of conversations my followers and I had been having on my page over the past few days regarding race. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard those words, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it did make it very clear to me that this is a conversation which needs to be had.
As a 4th generation Mexican-American, I am a mixed white/latina, or, as I prefer, simply Latina. I’m well aware that some would take issue with that statement, as it may initially sound like an erasure of the whiteness I inherited from my mother, which shows in my nose, chin, and jawline, as well as a slight influence on the shade of my skin, but to take such issue would be to ignore one crucial aspect of America’s white-dominant racial dynamic which needs to be discussed:
When whiteness is viewed as the default, it is also viewed as a “purity” standard.
This is perhaps most obvious in the “one drop rule” America once legally held, and could even be argued to still hold subconsciously on a societal level, with regards to deciding the race of a mixed person of black heritage, but before I go further, please allow me to clarify that as a person who is not black, and therefore has no place speaking with any authority on the oppression black people face, it is not my intent to appropriate their unique struggle by implying that anything as extreme has ever applied to my race, as it has not. However, in the eyes of white society, any trace of a mixed person’s own ancestry which can even subconsciously be identified as “non-white” in any way still plays a vital role in how we are treated within the frame of the institutionalized constructs we were raised in; and In that context of whiteness as a purity standard, I rarely make the cut. Even in cases when an individual is simply unable to immediately determine my race, I am still easily distinguished from the “default.” This is because, in spite of any features I may have inherited from my mother, I have (more importantly) also inherited many very Latinx features from my father. The end result?
In most cases, I am not perceived as white.
My skin is lighter than my father’s, but it’s also still much darker than my mothers, carrying a distinct copper tone in contrast to the blatant, un-tannable pink of hers. I also carry his lips, cheekbones, and brown eyes, along with the characteristically fluffy, curly, voluminous, near-black-brown Latinx hair which somehow skipped my father in everything but color on its way to me from my Apache grandfather, and don’t even get me started on my eyebrows or my facial and body hair. (or even my cis older sister’s for that matter)
Speaking of Family
It’s also important to note that the experiences of mixed people are never determined solely on the basis of our outward appearances. We’re also judged by the appearances of our parents and siblings, our cultural affectations, and even our names. I didn’t get much from my father in the way of Latinx culture (thanks to his own internalized racism and distance from what little family he had) but even his appearance alone made any notion that he could ever truly whitewash his family into privilege laughable at best, not to even mention that his last name, (which I decided to drop after being disowned for my transness) is one of the single most iconically Mexican surnames in existence.
This alone ensured that even the most white-passing of my six siblings (one of whom even somehow managed to pull blue eyes and white skin out of the mix) have had their appearances met with intense scrutiny for even the faintest traces of Latinx heritage they still carry, and have experienced their fair share of racism on account of it.
I’ve personally been stereotyped, bullied, experienced employment discrimination, and even been lied to about apartment openings specifically on account of my race.
Over the course of my previous work history in customer service, I’ve been asked several times for a supervisor by an unsavory, racist, white customer who didn’t want to be helped by (in their words) an “incompetent Mexican,” and don’t even get me started on the numerous times I’ve had to answer unsolicited phone calls received in Spanish from companies who would’ve ordinarily called in English had they not seen my last name and leapt to a racist assumption.
How can I speak on the experiences of a person of color?
The answer is simple: By white standards, I am a person of color, and therefore am not granted the societal benefits accorded to whiteness. My experiences (and those of many mixed individuals) represent the valid experiences of people of color. To imply otherwise directly contributes to white supremacy by silencing our marginalized voices, so that we find ourselves denied not only equality and justice, but even the right to speak up about it, and it’s not okay, especially when it's backed up by the white privilege of the offending individual. It’s erasing, it’s racist, and it needs to stop. Pronto.
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