I am Latina. I am a Woman. I’m a child of immigrants. But I am also white facing, meaning I have benefited from white privilege all my life. While this isn’t news to me, I never really understood the true gravity of such privilege until a few months ago.
Our Black and Brown communities have been on the receiving end of violence, terror, extreme injustice and racism for hundreds of years. I have grown up in a system that continues to oppress and quiet BIPOC, along with their respective histories, their achievements, their beauty and most importantly their humanity.
I’ve always considered myself lucky to be a free American. I was equally lucky to have been raised speaking Spanish at home with family while spending my childhood summers in Colombia, experiencing another culture in a country that is home to vast populations of Black and Indigenous communities.
I felt like I was part of a diverse and open-minded community. I still feel that way. However, the privilege of being white was never addressed, so I was oblivious to how it positively affected my life and, more importantly, how it negatively affected the Black and Brown lives around me.
While racism runs deep in Colombia–as it does for much of Latin America and the Caribbean–what’s more specifically common is colorism, which is the preferential treatment of those who are lighter-skinned compared to those who are darker, even though both are of the same race. In Latin communities then, it’s especially common to hear things like, “you’re not Black, you’re [insert country here], or even comments about the type of hair you have, “at least you have good hair,” etc.
As children, we are essentially taught that having lighter skin is more beautiful and that darker skin is less preferred. If you do have darker skin, you are constantly warned, not quite half-jokingly, to stay out of the sun so that you don’t get any darker.
Even the telenovelas we are so used to watching are filled with light-skinned actors taking up the major roles, while the darker-skinned actors usually portray the ‘help.’
And so while I never grew up around any overt displays of racism, I also did not grow up with any understanding of what it meant to be anti-racist, or much less why it is vital.
As detailed above, the society we live in and the system by which this world functions is inherently racist, and built to mainly benefit white people while simultaneously oppressing BIPOC. As it’s embedded within everything around us, it becomes more natural for us to grow up harboring certain prejudices about people and their skin color without even realizing it.
It’s imperative for us to acknowledge this fact and then get to work on changing it. As Ijeoma Oluo, NYT Best Selling Author of ‘So You Want To Talk About Race’ (@ijeomaoluo) so eloquently puts it:
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”
I have engaged in behavior that I regret, making excuses for family members who “don’t know better” because they’re of an older generation, staying quiet when someone has made an offensive “joke” or has said something ignorant or offensive because “they probably didn’t really mean it.” Colorism was very much a part of being raised Latina.
I now realize the dangers of staying silent and I am committed to actively participating in unlearning the harmful ideologies to which we’ve grown accustomed. We are talking about racism at home regularly, and addressing our own white privilege. I have addressed these topics with family and we’ve talked about the ways we can be better and change and eliminate colorism from our vocabulary. I have done a “clean up” of my social media feeds, getting rid of accounts that do not serve in uplifting BIPOC and subscribing to new voices I’d never heard before whether they’re in the arts or civic action.
I recently found Rachel Cargle (@rachel.cargle) who offers a wealth of knowledge and resources for anyone looking to be an ally to BIPOC and specifically Black women, who are the most affected. She founded The Loveland Foundation (@thelovelandfoundation) which provides free therapy for Black women and girls, and she curates a monthly self-paced syllabi at The Great Unlearn (@thegreatunlearn) where she currently has a free 30-day course called #DoTheWork. I began the course earlier this week, and I’m now on day three.
I really encourage you to do more research, ask questions, learn and unlearn, and when you know better, do better. It is perfectly ok to change your mind when you’ve learned more about a subject. That is how we grow and evolve. These are small steps we must begin taking in order to begin dismantling the systems, institutions and ideologies that continue to negatively affect BIPOC and their communities.
Black lives matter. All black lives matter and are beautiful and worthy and deserving.
We are in this together, friends. As white people and Latinxs, we must step forward and stand with our Black and Brown family.
And above all, we must no longer stay quiet.