Hey everyone! I’ve been a little busy watching the fall of American Democracy to find time to write, but I’m here now to hit you with the latest installment of this Brown Girl’s Life. One thing that is absolutely HYSTERICAL to me is when I try to talk about white privilege to people who don’t think it exists–turns out it’s really hard to discuss a concept when the other person doesn’t think the concept is real. Normally I try to explain it using small examples so that said person can see how our experiences are different and how that can only be explained by one thing-privilege-but it doesn’t always work because sometimes there is a basic misunderstanding about what things are; for instance, compliments.
One thing I’ve noticed is that some non-POC don’t understand what a real compliment is. For me it’s pretty simple, “nice pants,” “nice tie,” “great job on that case/job/cake,” etc. For some reason though I’m always subject to qualifying compliments you know, “you speak English really well, I can hardly hear your accent,” “you look exotic,” “Wow, YOU’RE a lawyer?” “You don’t even look Mexican,” etc. I’ve gotten these compliments since I can remember, especially the “I wouldn’t have guessed you’re Mexican,” one. When I was younger I used to think some of these were actually compliments like oh I’m just so mysterious, beautiful and exotic. False. Truth of the matter is, I can pass in some circles because it’s possible I’m not 100% brown so, I’m more acceptable. Because apparently the browner you are the less acceptable you are; so, it IS a compliment to be told that you don’t seem as brown, right? I mean why else would someone say that intending it to be a compliment, if that were not the case?
“You run fast, for a girl.”
Now I’ve come to believe that maybe some people don’t know what qualified compliments are so I’m going to list one you’ve probably heard a variation of before, “You run fast, for a girl.” This is not a compliment. If you’ve ever said this and meant it as a compliment, smack yourself in face and continue reading. People run and some people run fast. If you know someone who runs fast you can just say, “you run fast.” You don’t have to qualify it and if you do then you don’t really think they run fast or you don’t mean your statement as a compliment-you probably just like to hear yourself speak. It’s pretty simple, and if that explanation wasn’t clear to you, it should be now. If it’s not, there’s a real life example of this happening to me below.
Disclaimer: At this point in my life I’m taking the route of, if you say something to me that is intentionally offensive I’m calling you out either to your face or here. So, please don’t start with the “time-outs” later, if you’re going to be offensive or ignorant own it the entire time, not just when you feel ballsy enough to say it to my face. Embrace your offensiveness at all times or just DON’T BE OFFENSIVE.
“Embrace your offensiveness at all times or just DON’T BE OFFENSIVE.”
Anyways to set the scene, my SO and I were sharing some nice quality time together and doing what I do best, I bring up race. I had a week where it was brought up more than average in a professional setting namely at a legal proceeding where one of the judges asked me when the attorney was going to arrive. Spoiler alert: I am the attorney. So, we start talking about how I feel like I’m constantly being reminded of my race and how it makes me different and makes even the simplest things harder for me. For example, we compared how many times someone asked if he was a lawyer when he walked into a courtroom, met with another attorney, met with a client, appeared at deposition, etc., to how many times it happens to me (Him: 0 Me: 1 Million and counting, and three times that week). He had a hard time believing that people are so overtly dumb-for lack of a better word-to ask me if I was the interpreter, assistant, etc. I told him I wished he was around to see it, just once, because it happens to me so often it’s laughable. Currently I am working on comebacks for when this happens in a professional setting. If you have any tips, hit my comments below!
So later that night we go out to dinner with a friend of his that was in town and some of her friends-people we hadn’t met before. They were nice enough and we all got to chatting, my SO excuses himself to the bathroom and one of the women says to me “you have the best skin,” “thanks,” I reply, “I’m very lucky, one of my cousins is an esthetician and she takes good care of me,” (You can find her here!) from across the table this other woman says, “I was just going to say you have the best skin too!…but you have that ethnic thing going for you, soooo…(hand waive).” “Yes,” I respond, “I am in fact ethnic,” in the most are you fucken kidding me tone I could muster up. LE SIGH! I turn around and continue talking to the person who doesn’t qualify compliments, while simultaneously saying in my head, I can’t believe HE MISSED THIS!! I”M DYING INSIDE FOR A WITNESS TO THIS TRAVESTY I’M EXPERIENCING AT THIS BAR! He comes back and I’m trying to shoot him telepathic messages with my eyes, “look at the blond on the other side of the table, she’s jealous of this beautiful Mexican skin and basically said it out loud in public.” He looks back at me like why are you starring at me you creep show-message not received.
Like oh she was paying her a compliment, and that is privilege bullshit.
Now, there’s a few issues here to start, 1. Why didn’t I just call her out to her face? 2. Why didn’t anyone else say anything? It’s pretty standard response for me, I am always struggling with being “that girl.” You know what I’m talking about, the girl that is always calling people out for saying offensive shit and normally hears the response, “I love Mexicans, cmon!” or “Oh come on, I’m not being offensive I’m being funny.” How about the why didn’t anyone else say anything route? Well honestly, I don’t think anyone even realized how offensive these comments were, because it was just so normal to them. Like oh she was paying her a compliment, and that is privilege bullshit.
Moving on: We leave the bar and all I can think is yes I’m going to tell my SO the moment we start this walk to the restaurant so he can be on the look-out for more abhorrent behavior by this so-called adult. I don’t get a chance to, we are walking in too close of a group for me to spill the beans. He can tell something is up because I say something like, “oh the funniest thing happened while you were in the bathroom,” followed up with another eye message: message still not received. We sit down at the table and it’s pretty uneventful just the standard divorcee talking about how she’s getting her groove back. Later after we eat and sans any talk about my skin or ethnicity, my SO excuses himself to the bathroom. A random man from another table that has been hitting on said blond woman throughout dinner finally gets up, he sees his opportunity because my SO, the only guy in the group, has left the table-which is a problem all in itself. How some men, this guy in particular, thinks women should be approached or where they see an “in” is an issue in itself but I will save that topic for another day! Anyways, he comes over and his opening line is “I bet I can guess everyone’s race at this table.” Now I have been out of the game for sometime (shout out to my main squeeze) but when did that become a pick-up line!? Anyone? Has anyone ever used that line before? Has that gone well for anyone? Ever? In the history of pick up lines?! Please let me know if it has.
So there’s four of us at the table and he gets up and while pointing respectively, says “Jewish, Jewish, definitely Jewish and Mexican,” (pointing at me). The blond woman shouts from across the table, “See I knew it!” I shoot back, “Yeah, it wasn’t a secret!” This comment I guess went back to the whole, you have nice skin because you’re ethnic thing and at this very moment she realized, she was right, aha! She had caught me! At this point I’m annoyed and can’t believe my SO wasn’t there to witness this moment, yet again. The night ends with us at a nightclub where the divorcee says something rude to the guy with the gift to guess everyone’s race (SHOCKING) and her not being able to understand how she offended him after she called him self-serving (DOUBLE SHOCKING).
“Yeah, it wasn’t a secret!”
The next day I tell my SO about this nonsense and he responds by saying he’s not trying to be ignorant but isn’t being told “you have great skin” a compliment? I mean everyone tells you that. I respond like I did above, yes THAT is a compliment but what she said wasn’t. He didn’t really understand how what she said was different from what he said. So I explained it in the best way I know, using examples. “It’s like someone telling you, hey you’re really well off and successful, but you got that Jewish thing going for you.” He responded “Oh yeah, that’s rude as fuck, I see now.” So all of a sudden it made sense to him like yeah that’s really not OK. Which in his defense I don’t think that’s a realization that most people ever have.
We spent the rest of the time talking about how people feel it’s OK to say things like that out loud or how that guy thought that was a fun thing to do, guess everyone’s race as a way to start a conversation. Three times in one night I told him, that was three times in a few hours that rude shit happened to me in public, with a brand new group of people who felt that this was an appropriate way to act around someone you just met. I wasn’t asked what I did for a living, what my hobbies were, and at one point I even overheard her ask someone what my name was–she was obviously uninterested in anything but the origin of my skin. Point being there wasn’t an interest in the normal things you ask someone when you are meeting them for the first time and interested in actually getting to know them. Instead, it was pointed out that I got this flawless epidermis but it’s not because I take care of it, it’s because of these roots and so it’s not really so great after all because it’s tainted by the fact that my ethnicity is the reason for it and my ethnicity isn’t white. Sorry you’re so offended by this melanin magic, lady…
The worst is that I’m sure she didn’t even realize how that was rude to say to someone and how the other people around the table didn’t either. There are only a few things that people of color have a step up on. It’s not access to education, wealth, societal justice, etc., but some of us have fly melanin and it’s because of our ethnicity that it’s great, not in spite of it. Let us have our wins. Learn to respect us and praise us like you do your non-POC counterparts. You’re not appreciating and complimenting us if you’re following it up with a backhand. So to the people who think that they’re being complimentary and not realizing this, hold yourself to a higher standard, ask yourself why you think that being a person of color minimizes what was initially worthy of a compliment. Do better for yourself. We as POC know that it’s going to take more than us standing up for ourselves to get to a better place, it requires allies. Be an ally not an obstacle or don’t be surprised when you catch backhands too.