October 16, 2009

On Whiteness and Otherness

For anyone who has non-white relatives but appears white, the question of race can become a very nuanced one. The closer to you the relatives, the more complicated the question of your own race can be. Of course, on a very technical level, I know I'm inter-racial, and yet, the level of looks, not necessarily. Some people think I have features that look "ethnic," and yet others mistake me for French, Irish, and countless other ethnicities. In general, people interact with me like a generic white girl. If I cry at the airport, I can get away with carry-on baggage that is over the weight limit and young men often like to walk me to my door out of concern for my safety. I can pass for the stereotype of the nice, helpless white girl. But really, am I passing? Race is as race does.

I have been treated unproblematically as a white girl for most of my life, with a few offensive incidents here and there that really didn't even register until my twenties. I don't really have to worry about issues like racial profiling or experiencing poor service because of my skin colour. These things WILL NEVER happen to me in the current racial climate of Canada, and yet, I have relatives who aren't white. I have relatives who fit the post-9/11 stereotype of what terrorists look like, but I don't, and unless I were traveling with them, this fact would probably never affect me.

I love people who have to deal with racism, but on a daily basis, I really don't. So, when you have that other race in you, but not on you? What are you? I like to think I'm sensitive to issues of racism. I like to think I'm good at interrogating issues of race and ethnicity and critiquing white dominance, and yet white dominance has privileged me. I have white privilege. Can you be white on the outside but be conscious of your inter-racial background on the inside? Will you ever GET it - the idea of being inter-racial, if people only know once you tell them? If people don't know to discriminate against you unless you let them? I don't know. I don't think it's something we can ever know, and yet I'm doubtful that I ever could really "get" it at all....

No comments: