Your soul

I Don’t Look White, And I Feel Pretty Guilty About It

By January 30, 2016 0
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“What are you?”

It might not be the first question a person asks me, but without fail, every time I meet someone new, it’s inevitably the second or third thing that comes out of their mouth.

Potential answers include: a human woman, an ivy-league journalism student, the editor-in-chief of the next biggest startup website.

But no. None of those are what they’re looking for. They don’t give a shit if I’m an NBA all-star (I’m not) or a certified Thai elephant trainer (I am).

Because what they really mean, but are too afraid to ask outright, is “what race are you?”

Let me clear something up, for anyone out there who is still wondering: I. Am. White.

I am the whitest white girl there ever was. Like, I’m 1990-Vanilla-Ice-meets-2005-Paris-Hilton white. I’m I-eat-steamed-kale-and-regularly-go-to-Soul-Cycle white. I’m I-have-five-dogs-all-under-8-pounds white. (Are these offensive? I found them on a website called stuffwhitepeoplelike.com)

To break it down for you: I’m Irish, Polish/Russian and a teeny, tiny bit native American (we’re talking like, 2% — definitely not even close to enough to get me into college or give me the rights to any cool burial rituals), and I identify wholly and completely as “Caucasian.” (Confession: I was always tempted to check something cooler on my SAT’s and college apps so I would have a better chance of getting into schools — really, how would  they ever know — but I never did.)

I also happen to be Jewish, something that made me feel a littttttle bit unique at my Catholic University, but as my parents and rabbis have told me time and time again, Judaism is a religion, not a race.

Ok, yeah, sure: I get tan in the summer, and my eyes have sort of an eastern look to them (I used to joke with my Jewish boyfriend who had only previously dated Asian girls that I was a “smooth transition” into dating white girls. He never laughed at that one.), but I swear on both my parents and all my siblings (who all also happen to be white) that I am as caucasian as they come. I am your stereotypical, upper-middle-class white girl, who does pretty much all of the stereotypical-white-person things that @TheFatJewish makes fun of (Redoing high-fives! Wearing Sperry’s! Posing for a “goofy” picture!) and who really does love Vanilla Ice.

But unlike one of our other bloggers, who offers no apology for being a rich white person, I AM sorry.

I’m sorry to the people who look at me and think I look like them, so I therefore must know  that I know what it’s like to be discriminated against or to face hardships because of the color of my skin. Truthfully, I have no idea.

I am a textbook example of white privilege with a face that just happens to look Hispanic/Arab/Asian/Mediterranean. And it really, really isn’t fair.

Because other people who look like me have it so, so much harder. I’ve never in my life had to worry about not being accepted, or about not being given a table at a restaurant or accepted into a friend group because of the color of my skin.

To think of examples to include here, I literally had to Google “What is it like to be discriminated against?” That’s how far detached I am from that experience — I know absolutely nothing about it.

In truth, I have it easy because I can blend in pretty much anywhere. People speak to me in all kinds of languages I half pretend to understand, and I don’t get bothered walking through the sorts of neighborhoods that would make most white girls nervous. In high school, my best friend and I used to get free Baklavah from the local pita shop because they thought I was Greek.

I would love to sit here and argue that race doesn’t matter, and that we live in a color-blind world where everyone is equal and we can all make s’mores and sing “Koombaya” and live happily ever after. But we all know that’s not true. We live in a world where a black teenager can’t walk down the street without being afraid of getting shot by the cops, and where our primary Republican presidential candidate is calling for all Muslims to be deported.

Obviously, it matters.

Which is why the question “what are you” infuriates me so deeply: If I had to list 10 — or even 100 — interesting things about myself, the fact that I’m plain-old Wonder-bread WHITE certainly wouldn’t make the cut. I understand that for other people, especially those with interesting racial backgrounds or cultural histories, race is an important part of who they are. And my goal here is not to de-value that: I respect it, and part of me even envies it. But for me, talking about “what I am” just makes me feel uncomfortable, and more than anything — guilty.

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