Last week I had another interesting experience that has rocked my world a little more. Quite frankly, I should know better. But every time I get to see more, to notice and challenge my assumptions, I grow. That is the point, after all. And because these challenges allow me to see myself and others more, it allows for the possibility of stronger relationships, which I love. Here’s what happened:
I recently met a colleague who is White; blonde hair and blue eyed. She is lovely. And we have had a few amazing talks. But last week I learned from her, that she is fluent in Spanish, and that her mother was brown, from the Dominican Republic. Which means she is half Latino, and simply looks more like her dad.
This is where the needle on the record would scratch off (if you’re old enough to remember vinyl!).
My colleague looks White. But her experience growing up with a Latina mother means she is biracial and knows about xenophobia, and marginalization in a personal way. Yes, she has White skin privilege, and she is aware of it. And although she presents as White, the label and everything that seems to go with it in our minds is not congruent with her experiences growing up, or who she is.
It made me think of my light skin privilege, and that my skin colour is also not congruent with many of my experiences growing up.
Both of us have first hand experiences of marginalization and what it means to try to fit in on either side…to belong. One difference is that she walks through life being seen and given access because of her skin colour, and I can walk through life not always being seen or given access because of mine – and yet I have more access than those with darker skin than me, and I am often seen and heard more than they might be.
And… here are my post-conversation thoughts:
It’s easy to think we are not given a fair chance when we are visibly different from the dominant group. I invite you to insert any marginalized group into this sentence, but I’ll use my identities.
I’m Brown. It’s easy to think people judge me for not being White (the standard).
It’s easy for me to think things like: “Ha! Wait until people find out I can speak German, won’t that throw them for a loop, show them that there is more to me than they think.”
But it’s just as easy to judge someone for being White; for me to look at my blonde, blue eyed colleague and to be shocked that she speaks perfect Spanish, and to learn that her mother was Brown, and that she can speak to racism and xenophobia in a way that is personal, because she has lived experience.
It’s easy to think that “those people” don’t, won’t, or can’t “get it”.
“Those people” can be anyone not like me. Not like you. Anyone different.
And often on issues relating to isms, “those people” are part of the dominant group. Because we (the non-dominant groups) don’t see how they could possibly understand.
But… sometimes people are closer than we think.
We (those from non-dominant groups: people of colour, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, working class, women, etc) “get it” because of personal experience. But they (those from dominant groups) may also “get it” because of family background, marriage, children, relatives. We don’t always see or make room for those “personal experiences” because we are just looking at the person in front of us.
So I discovered that I don’t have an ally, I have a colleague who has had many of the same experiences as I have had, growing up in a biracial family, and her understanding comes from lived experience. She gets it. And, like me, she is often not seen for who she really is. Including by me. Sigh.
Ultimately, no matter who we are, thinking someone won’t or doesn’t get it, because of what they look like or who we see and therefore who we think they are keeps us apart.
What can you do today to bridge the gap?