colorblind

when someone says,
“I don’t see color.”
she asserts (colorblindness)
that she isn’t racist.

instead, she means,
“I’m dismissing
a(n inherent) part of you
because I can’t relate.”

when someone says,
“I don’t see race.”
he insists he treats
everyone equally (regardless).

instead, he emphasizes
the fact that
he (purposely) ignores how
society favors people like him.

when you say,
“white people are clueless.”
don’t be surprised that
many get defensive &
wonder why you don’t
acknowledge their (imaginary) plight.

Advertisements

The reclamation of beauty

When I was four years old,
I drew (fair-skinned) mermaids
with huge breasts & light hair
that flowed down to their tiny waists.
The mermaids’ faces never looked like mine —
their eyes were larger (& not almond-shaped),
their noses were smaller (& pointed),
their mouths were fuller (& bright pink).
Every night, I’d pray that the next morning,
I’d wake up transformed into Ariel,
a beautiful (white) mermaid.

When I was fourteen years old,
I watched Gilmore girls obsessively.
While I could relate to Lane (Rory’s Korean best friend)
she never considered herself pretty,
nor was she sought after by cute boys
(the measure of a teenage girl’s beauty & self-worth).
Her first (unrequited) love was music &
her failed attempts at dating were a repetitive punchline.
The sarcastic brown girl was always the funny foil
to the doe-eyed protagonist with a porcelain complexion.
I wasn’t the heroine in my own life.

When I was twenty-four years old,
I lifted my chin defiantly & looked in the mirror.
My eyes were dark brown (& almond shaped)
my nose was wide (& round)
my mouth was small (& pale pink).
I’d never be a tall, restrained, universally liked queen,
since I was a short, loud, unapologetically honest woman.
There was a newfound freedom (& power) in being myself.
I (finally) recognized that when
my handsome man said, “You’re beautiful.”
it was the truth.

“I’m a minority where we live!”

The night before Andrea’s law school graduation, we had drinks with her mom Mrs. S, her stepdad Tim, and her uncles Lee and Jamie. Mrs. S and Tim are Republicans from Florida. They love Sarah Palin and hate President Obama. They’re outspoken Fox News conservatives.

Adding alcohol to this outing guaranteed one of two outcomes. Either Mrs. S and Tim would have fun and not bring up politics or everyone would get into a screaming match by the end of the night. Andrea was willing to risk the latter, in hopes that the former would occur.

By the third round of drinks, Tim surpassed drunk and proceeded to belligerent.

“I’m not represented in this country — not with the current president!

I rolled my eyes and took the bait. “Really, Tim?”

“I’m a minority where we live!”

“Y’all live in Orlando.”

“Most of our neighbors are Hispanic!”

“Let’s backtrack. How are you oppressed as a straight white man in America?”

“I’m not oppressed, I’m just sayin’ that more…y’know…”

“More what? Or whom?”

“More minorities are — ”

“Procreating? Living in your neighborhood? Taking jobs that were previously held by white people?”

“Yes!”

“Must be tough to feel isolated and shafted out of opportunities because of your skin color.”

“It’s very tough.”

“Imagine if generations of your family had to deal with that.”

Tim paused, pondering this.

“The thing is, they haven’t and it’s highly unlikely they will.”

“But what if — ”

“If we minorities outnumber y’all white folks, we’re not going to inflict reverse racism on you.”

“Not outta spite?”

“You’ve got white (and male) privilege. You’ll never know what it’s like to be discriminated against because of your race or gender.”

“I still don’t feel represented by Congress — ”

“The majority of Congress is made of middle-aged white men.”

“Who you callin’ middle-aged?!”

“Plus, President Obama is biracial. He’s half-white. Which you white dudes tend to forget.”

“Hmph.”

“Not that it should have any bearing on his leadership abilities. Just pointing out facts.”

“Obama may be biracial, but he’s still a socialist!”

“I need another drink before we continue this conversation.”

“What are those things under your shirt?”

As a teenager, I babysat rambunctious boys. They destroyed everything in their path. They brawled to resolve arguments. Their parents laughed, “Boys will be boys!” when I described their aggression.

When a couple down the street asked me to babysit their demure five-year-old daughter Ana, I was relieved. Playing with Barbies and reading stories would be a welcome break from the chaos of babysitting boys. I wouldn’t have to stop fights or put valuables in unreachable places.

After going over Ana’s bedtime routine and their contact numbers, her parents left for their date night. We had pizza for dinner and played hide and go seek. (Not as difficult with two people, she discovered.) Before bedtime, Ana insisted that we have a tea party. We sat at her pink table and sipped invisible tea out of matching teacups.

“Samantha, how do you like my tea party?”

“It’s the loveliest tea party I’ve been to, Ana. Thank you for being a gracious hostess.”

“What are those things under your shirt?”

“You mean…my bra?”

“What’s in your bra? My mommy said those are called breasts, right?”

“Uh — ”

“My mommy and daddy are doctors. They say you should use the real words for privates.”

“Scientifically speaking, I have breasts under my shirt.”

“When will I get those?”

“It depends on when you go through puberty.”

“What’s that?”

“When your body changes — actually, you should ask your mom about it, not me.”

“My mommy and daddy aren’t regular doctors. They talk to people to make sure their brains are happy. What’s that called?”

“They’re psychiatrists.”

“Why are they white and I’m brown?”

“…”

“My hair doesn’t look like my mommy’s either.”

“This tea party has been a fantastic one, but it’s your bedtime, Ana.”

“Already?”

“Teeth brushing and pajama time for you!”

“You’re not making me sleep early because I ask lots of questions, are you?”

“Not at all!”

While Ana slept, I decided two things:

  1. I would rather broker peace between battling brothers than field more awkward questions from this observant little girl.
  2. I would never babysit for a couple of psychiatrists ever again.

A lack of rhythm

Swaying slowly & off-beat
I twirl around & you dip me,
laughing because neither of us
has a natural sense of rhythm,
in spite of myths claiming we should
because of the colors of our skin.

When they stared (we exchanged smiles)

During high school, I was one of four Filipinos.
It made sense that we were two of the “exotic friends” 
at a (high school) friend’s wedding.
When they stared, I squeezed your hand
(we exchanged smiles).
Birmingham is (perpetually) decades behind.
People claim,
“I’m not racist — I prefer that folks
stick to their own kind.”
Upon returning to Atlanta,
I breathed a sigh (of relief)
because here, when they stare,
(we exchange smiles)
and brush off comments like,
“Y’all will have the most beautiful children!”

What are you?

A childhood in Alabama
consisted of fielding
ignorant questions daily.

What are you?
Human.
I mean, where are you from?
Born in New York and lived here since third grade.
But where are your parents from?
The Philippines.
Where is that?
Southeast Asia.
Then why does your last name sound Spanish?
Spain colonized the Philippines for centuries.

A brown kid in Birmingham
is a novelty and source
of entertainment.

Say something in your language.
You mean in Tagalog?
Whatever it is.
I don’t speak it well.
Didn’t your parents teach you?
Not really.
Why not?
They didn’t want us to sound fresh off the boat.
I would love to be bilingual.
You still can be — you just have to learn a foreign language.

Blending in is impossible,
but not lashing out is
the only option.

If I could’ve, I would’ve asked,
Are you pale during every season?
Since your grandparents are Irish, do you speak Gaelic?
Is your hair naturally blonde?
Are you actually one-sixteenth Cherokee?
If I could’ve, I would’ve said,
Your English is great,
for someone born in Bessemer.
Enjoy the rest of your life, thinking
Alabama is the center of the universe.