Commentary

Commentary: Passing for White Privilege

Whenever I Check off ‘Latinx’ on Andover forms, I can’t help but feel undeserving of claiming my culture as my own. My fully Colombian ancestry doesn’t discount the fact that, with blonde hair and blue eyes and light skin, I don’t know what to do with the white privilege melting off my skin.

I feel white privilege when I walk into stores and eyes don’t follow me, when I am assumed to be Anglo-American, and when I don’t have to worry about being told to go back to my country by strangers. But I don’t feel privileged when immigrants are dehumanized for simply seeking better opportunities– being labeled criminals, rapists, and illegal. I don’t feel privileged when the sitting president threatens to delegitimize my lawful citizenship just to excite his political base. In an interview with Axios, Trump revealed his plan to eliminate birthright citizenship with an executive order in October. I don’t feel privileged when I have to pretend that politics isn’t scrutinizing my very existence in the United States, as if human beings can be negotiated like objects in the first place.

It took me a minute to summon the courage to enter CAMD for the first time. I couldn’t stand the prospect of continuing to be labeled as the white girl pretending to be Latinx. Do I even have the right to claim the identity if I’m passing, if I don’t face any surface discrimination? Am I a person of color or is my skin too light? Or is my skin color defining when, in the end, I become a statistic on an admission pamphlet? I wish someone had told me the answers, but no one ever teaches you how to prove your ethnicity to the blurred faces that don’t believe you. No one tells you how to understand your ancestors slaughtering your other ancestors for gold and why no one talks about it. The mixed blood of both the indigenous of Latin America and the Spanish conquistadors run through my veins—the product of mass genocide. No one teaches you how to react when being called a drug dealer for the first time. I wish someone had told me that I would never be Latinx enough or white enough to reach their expectations so I wouldn’t have failed trying.

When I was younger, I used to think that my white privilege was a bad thing. I wished desperately to look more like my parents, who both have brown hair and eyes. I wanted to fit the classic Latinx portrayal in American media so that I wouldn’t have to reference my birth certificate or fluency in Spanish to prove my ethnicity. I also felt as though I didn’t deserve a privilege that both my family and ancestors don’t have access to.

But there are so many voices stifled in immigrant communities, stories, and perspectives blocked by the American rhetoric machine. Not advocating with a voice of privilege for those being silenced is actively choosing to be complacent in the hatred occurring in this country. Being a white Latina, I have more privilege than my brown and black brothers and sisters. I believe that to not use that privilege, to not use the power that was given to me to speak out, would be to reject my roots and my people.

To my white and white-passing peers, check and recognize your privilege. We must do better, not to overpower the voices of our brown and black peers, but to respect and support them. Andover must be held accountable—we must educate ourselves. We can no longer teach freshmen in E.B.I. that Latinx is a race. We can no longer simply watch others take action while believing that whatever issue doesn’t pertain to us. When immigrants are being kept in literal cages, it isn’t a problem that minorities have to solve, it’s a universal, human problem.

I don’t think the feeling of not being enough will ever go away. I don’t think people will stop disagreeing with my ethnicity. The discrimination I experience does not amount to the discrimination non-passing people of color in this country are currently facing. But white guilt doesn’t help anyone, while action, advocacy, and empathetic conversation do. We cannot perpetuate inactiveness when the silence of the oppressed is deafening, we cannot simply ignore the plights of others. White and white-passing people need to be actively fighting against the system that gives us privilege.

Laura Ospina is a Junior from Cary, NC. Contact the author at lospina22@andover.edu

Feb 23, 2019