Passing off white, hearing the truth




I am a light-skinned Hispanic woman. I straddle between the white world and the brown world. White people don’t realize I’m brown, and brown people don’t realize I’m not white. I “pass.” I have freckles, and I don’t speak Spanish. My accent is a Long Island one. I grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods, but the schools I have attended have been a healthy mix. I have found myself, on numerous occasions, being in privy to candid conversations among white people regarding race. Some conversations have been outright racist “The only reason why black people are free is because white people let them be free.”) others veiled (“There shouldn’t be Spanish signs in the US. They should all speak English!”) I have learned to be on guard when I am in social situations with white people. If there are no brown faces in sight, I keep my guard up. Many times I have been present when issues about race come up and people don’t realize “one of them” is sitting at their table. When I was younger, I used to sit there, too mortified to say anything as ethnic jokes and denigrating banter took place around me. I would excuse myself to the bathroom and cry. I would cry because I was deeply offended, cry because I couldn’t bring myself to say anything, cry because I was reminded that the secret court of men’s hearts, little has changed. Now I speak up, outing myself and making it clear such language is offensive and wrong.
My best friend, who is black, envies my position. She tells me she would love to know what people think when they think no one is listening. It is not something to envy. I am constantly reminded that all those unity days and diversity weeks at school make little difference and we live in a divided world. Brown people distrust white people and white people live with prejudices they don’t even realize. I find myself explaining the views of each side to the other. I will never be truly comfortable walking into a room with only white people. I always look for a brown face because if there is a brown face, those conversations are likely not to take place. My husband and I want to move to a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood. Our dream town in lily white. As I was driving through this town recently, I started thinking about my life there. I found myself fearful. Fearful of attending PTA meetings or going to my daughter’s soccer games and being surrounded by white people and inevitably being there when the conversation takes that turn; the turn when they think they are only among white friends. Even though I have been in this situation countless times, I will never get used to it and it will never cease to upset me.
I don’t think all white people or racists or that black people are completely right to see racism everywhere. The truth is race has been, is, and will always be a complicated issue, and I will always be able to hear the truly candid thoughts and feelings of both sides.


Tweets by Michele Norris