It is unfortunate that speaking out on racism makes me a target for all factions of racism. There are people of color, including my half-brother, who insist that I am an outsider who cannot possibly understand their experiences. So I have thought long and hard about posting any of my own experiences.
There is nearly a generation between me and my half-brother, so I cannot blame him for not knowing what I experienced before he was born. What I can blame him for is denying my experiences. So I decided to go ahead and do so because so many seem to think that the white supremacist behavior like that displayed by the (UN)Civil Guard here in New Mexico is something that can be addressed with rational arguments and civilized conversation.
When my parents’ genetic deck was getting shuffled at my conception, I ended up a lot darker than the rest of my full siblings. And I react to the sun differently then they do. My siblings have hair that bleaches blonde when exposed to sunlight and their skin burns and freckles.
My hair stays dark brown no matter how much sun I am exposed to. And all of my skin turns brown, so much so that I have never looked sun burnt even when I feel painfully roasted by the sun. My own relatives noted the difference in coloration. When I was small, my father tried to soften their reactions, but even terms of endearment noted my difference.
AS a child in Louisiana, when my maternal grandfather called me his little brown gnome his friends snickered. As an adult, the woman who married my father’s younger brother assured me that I could not possibly be related to her blonde blue-eyed husband. In her eyes, my coloring meant that my genetic father had to be one of the questionable persons of color my parents hung around with.
Strangers noticed the difference in color too. When we were in Mexico, I was dark enough that Anglo tourists assumed I did not understand English. They felt free to point at me and titter to each other about what a cute little Mexican girl I was. As many indigenous people have experienced, they felt free to take pictures of me without asking permission.
When our family would cross the border into the US after spending weeks in Mexico, my sun-burnt bleached blonde siblings were waved through without a second thought. But, my father would have to pull out the birth certificates to prove I was actually his child. At least once, we had to wait for hours while the immigration officers checked to make sure the certificate was genuine.
My half-brother came to live with me in Santa Fe when he was in elementary school. Our mother was living in California at the time, and because of his brown skin and dark curly hair he was being racially profiled in public school. I was willing to take on the responsibilities in part because I had been racially profiled in the public school system. I had spent half a year with some family friends in Healdsburg California while my parents were getting divorced. Because I had dark hair, browned skin and spoke with a Spanish lit after living in Mexico, I was put in the lowest possible academic track a year below my age grade.
When my mother brought me back to Santa Fe mid year, I was put in the correct age grade, but again in the lowest possible track. When the school system finally got around to looking at my actual abilities, they told my mother I was so far in advance of my age that there was no place for in the public school system. I ended up taking the GED at age fifteen and placed at an undergraduate college level.
Once I got a vehicle, I was harassed by blonde men in pick-up trucks, mostly at night on the freeway. Once those (UN)Civil Guard types caught a glimpse of my face and hair when passing me, they would pull a u-turn and drive straight at me with their headlights on bright. When that failed to send me off the road in a panic, they would whisk past and take yet another high-speed u-turn.
Then they would drive up behind me and repeatedly hit my bumper. When my response was to slow down instead of driving off the road, they would drive alongside me and force me off the pavement. During this harassment, they shouted unintelligible insults and made insulting gestures with distorted hate-filled features.
I have been lucky that these displays of bad driving were so spectacular that the highway police appeared on the scene every time and chased down the drivers down. I doubt that harassment was the issue as the police did not bother to check on my well-being. Once the highway cops shone a light on me, they went on past. I assume they wrote me off when they saw my long dark hair and browned skin, as they did other people of color.
And I am quite sure that the harassers’ intentions were not good. My Toyota truck broke down in Smalltown, Idaho when my then boyfriend and I were driving to the Northwest to see his parents. While we were waiting for parts to arrive, we stayed with some of his mother’s relatives.
During our stay, one of his uncles took me aside to inform me that I had better watch my step. He said that uppity colored women like me ended up dead in the sagebrush, which was where I belonged. When I asked the relatives we were staying with about his threat, they readily admitted bodies of raped and murdered ‘bad’ girls were found in the brush off the highway every few weeks. Most blamed the ‘outsiders’ at the military base, but continued to point out to me that very few of the bodies were blue-eyed blondes.
A decade later, I was staying in a suburb of Bethesda Maryland, taking the subway into D. C. proper to look at books in the Library of Congress. The neighborhood where I stayed in was an interesting multi-racial mix of Third World ambassador’s families, ex-CIA agents, professors and such. But, it bordered on a new upscale and altogether white development.
One afternoon, I found myself walking down one of those upscale sidewalks deep in thought when I heard crashing and screaming. I looked up to see an abandoned perambulator complete with baby on the sidewalk. Then I realized the noise was a young white couple leaping screaming into the shrubbery.
In spite of my experiences, I tend to assume that white privileges are my privileges. I walk and talk like a Victorian blue-stocking. So, it took me a while to realize that seeing a woman in blue jeans with a long dark braid and brownish skin on their turf was the cause of the couple’s bizarre behavior.
While I stared at them in disbelief, they clung to each other more tightly, shrieking and thrashing even more. I have to say my gut reaction was anger, especially when I saw the baby lying in the pram. This was before cell phones, but if I had had one, I would have reported them for child abandonment and generally being insanely unfit parents.
The couple finally froze up when I pointed out rather sharply what utter idiocy it was to leave their child unattended as I walked past. I am not sure how much of their change in behavior was due to shock that I dared to speak to them at all and how much was due to their feeling humiliated at my pointing out their insanity. But at least they took their child with them when they scuttled away after I passed by.
Because of these experiences, I always figured there had to be some unacknowledged people of color somewhere among my ancestors. But getting my DNA analyzed through the National Geographic Genome Project pointed out that none of my ancestors appear to be Asian or Black, American or East Indian. So, when I look at white kids born of and to White Supremacists, like it or not, I have to acknowledge that they are my relatives.
I have to acknowledge that my relatives are people who are capable of de-humanizing those closest to them as easily as those distant. I have to acknowledge that my relatives are people who have normalized dark-core sociopathic behaviors for millennia. And, having sought ways to help my immediate kin become functional caring human beings, I have to acknowledge that there is no quick, easy or inexpensive resolution.
But I do know that the path to resolution begins with listening to one another.