22 de Marzo, 2007
The White Lens IV [The White Idea]
YOU CANNOT BE HALF-WHITE because "White" is an idea. It is not a lineage. It is the idea of being both untouched by the Brown™—unmixed with the dark beast of Other—as well as guided by notions of White Supremacy. The "One-Drop" rule kept White slaveowners from having to be responsible for the babies they planted in the wombs of their Black slaves because mixed with "Black blood" the "White" idea is eradicated. Of course you can have that idea safely envelope you (you can become an honorary White®) if you are multiracial, say part-Mexican and part not, or part-Korean and part not, or part African-descended and part not—basically, if you can fool the eye enough to allow you consideration. However, that consideration is not complete until you cease any scary activity or identification with the Brown™ part of your lineage. If you can shed the accent, learn the Queen's English as preferred, skip the ponchos and "vatos" and menudo, think of Mexican immigrants as Illegal Alienz, consider Racism in the past, or best yet—crusade against your own type of people—you are well on your way.
Barack Obama is a good example of someone who may be eligible for honorary Whiteness. That's why Biden saw and heard him and wanted to invite him into his kitchen. That's why (in my opinion) some of the Black community are musing on keeping him out. They don't trust an honorary White®. After all, we all know what they are capable of. They are capable of being Colorblind. Which means seeing no allegiance but to White Mainstream America. No roots, no special reparation, no otherly consideration.
Far too capable. Michelle Malkin, the Queen of Colorblind, has successfully become White®, at least temporarily. At least until she pulls her own type of Gonzales, and is reminded that her Whiteness was only an honorary award, one that not even marrying a White man, becoming a Brown-hater, and getting cozy in Bethesda, MD can make permanent.
I've lived in Bethesda, MD. I remember it well. It is "White Suburbia." I was eight years old. It was where I met a large part of resistance to my name, which is Spanish and unpronouncable to the English-only tongue except in a tacky, simplified, Anglo-tinted version now made famous by a movie star who went by "Leaf" for most of his life. Bethesda was where I was humiliated all the time in class as even the TEACHERS who were supposed to know so much stumbled like fools trying to get the non-English "J" and the alien-inflected "Q" over their tongue during roll call. Bethesda is where I was asked by the judge if I wanted the New White Daddy to adopt me; if I would give my eight-year-old permission. I already hated the man, the New Daddy who had married my mother and changed everything in my life. And yet, I didn't balk in those judge's chambers to say "yes." But did I know what I was agreeing to? Hell no. I just knew I was in a Special, Grave, Important place and someone was asking me my permission and it was someone I had no right to give a hard time to. And I was just befuddled by the whole process.
So I said 'Yes' and with the sweep of a pen, the placing of a shiny, gold, sticker onto a sheaf of papers and the pressure of a seal, the surname I was given at birth—the one I'd had for the first eight years of my life and that tied me to my physical appearance, my nanita, my papi, his papá, and all my Mexican lineage—was stamped out. It was neutralized, made Irish. Made short, and common, and easily (oh so easily) pronounceable, and something everyone could appreciate. The State reached back into all my documents and changed them. My caretakers, the government of Maryland, USA, and the spirit of George Orwell worked together to create the impression that I had always had the New Name; that I had always had the White Father, that my real father and my real last name had never existed. To this day, my legal birth certificate has the wrong man listed as my father. It's a lie. And I lost the original. There was (and is) no place and no document I could go to to prove my memories were real. Except one. There was one sheaf of papers only that showed the change. The adoption papers, themselves. Otherwise, I had been given a new name, a new father, a new identity, and the rare chance to be White®. As long as I stayed out of the sun, I was pretty good at honoring that idea. The White Idea.
Especially once I changed my first name to "Jack," shortly after that. Someone had told me that "Jack" was the English equivalent of my real (Spanish) name. And honestly, that was who I wanted to be: the White version of me. The one with no messy Mexican past. The one with a name everyone could pronounce. The one who wasn't asked about his "Nationality." The one who was not connected to the murk of Mexico's dark, unspoken stigma. Nanita, my Papi, tortillas, chiles, olive oil, Lady Guadalupe, hot, desert winds, adobe, the sound of Spanish...this was all so far away. Probably a dream. So I decided to become White®.
And began to lose my mind, very slowly. Not all at once, and never completely. Not in a dangerous or dramatic way. Not in a way any more mad than most the people I meet in life. In a creeping, insidious way, a way that blinds you to much of yourself, and thus the Truth. Any truth. Because when your feelings and image of yourself are conflicted in such a way, how can you be at peace with much else? The image of everything that I had grew jittery and began to slip to the side over the long stretch of days, as if a filmstrip being sped through the gears of the projector was slipping. The flicker, here, of a scene cut short and a bad edit slashing a thin line across the actor's eyeline. A spreading dark dot on the lens, a strip of shadow folds under at the edge of the screen, a smear of unexpected emulsion dances, a shadow blooms like a flower.
Once in a while, you bump into the shell of the Idea, and it is unsettling. I grew to fear the random people—usually kids at new schools—who would ask me if I were Puerto Rican. Or the random brown women who would speak to me in Spanish without knowing I had given up my Mexicanness. Didn't they know I was White®, then? Don't remind me of those things, those sounds. What did they see? How did they know that tongue was in my past life? What is peeking out of my eyes, my face? I didn't understand their ability to see into me in this way.
I grew to hate fluorescent lights. Yes, because they drain your soul of feeling. But also because (what I think of as) the olive-like base of my skin shows up there egregiously, more than the ole Fluorescent Light Green that settles onto all skin under those lights (There is an unnatural/non-analagous spike of green in the visible light spectrum of non-adjusted fluorescent lights, as studying cinematography taught me). Or the Winters, I hated them too. Not just for the lack of light and the sadness that settles under the hundredth layer of snow or for the cold that comes along with all the whiteness, but also because the color drains from my skin in those long, grayed out months, although it never leaves completely. My skin, to me, looked sickly during these times. I did not know it was my eye, waiting for a pink shade that never quite rose to the top. And if you are expecting to see pink, what would my skin look like?
My eyes. They became so confused. It's getting better. But there were, during these days of Whiteness®, troubling moments. What was showing through? My forehead didn't look right, something was wrong with the area between my eyes and my ear or maybe it was my nose or my lips....maybe....the skin, the sheen of the skin...the courseness of the hair, it was ugly, "like a dog" I said, shaving my head.
But I didn't even let myself think in honest terms anymore. I sublimated the White Supremacist notions that my New Legal Father constantly oozed into other shapes of less-obvious thought. After ten years of his influence (as well as mainstream "universal" (White®) culture), instead of thinking facial hair brings out the Mexican in me (even tho many have said so verbatim) I just thought facial hair looks ugly on me. Because in that strain of White® thought, Mexican=Ugly. And so I avoided facial hair (especially a mustache) at all costs. Instead of thinking taking Spanish in High School will tie me more to my Mexicanness I just thought that French would be more "interesting." (Also interesting that they were conquerors, for a while, of Mexico). Instead of thinking The sun makes me so dark I stand out as not-White™, I thought to myself as I reached into my late 20s The sun will age my skin, I should start avoiding it. Instead of thinking the darkness of my Brown eyes point toward the land of Quetzelcoatl and the nopales and steep mountains and sand I thought Brown eyes are dull, they look all one-color dark and it's not pretty...it sure would be nice to mess with those new, snazzy, green and blue contact lenses.
And by the way: how do I know that those were not real thoughts? For example, how do I know that my thoughts about the sun weren't valid? I really felt that way, right? It's true science, right? Prove it's wrong, that I wasn't realllllllly concerned about aging, but about my White Appearance. Because I would have argued you on any of these things. Although I now know they were sublimated thought. And how do I know? Because nowadays—and my face is ten years older, even, I don't care if the sun ages me. I see nothing scary about having lots of lines in my face when I smile, or concentrate, or get even older. Because I have a mustache now, and I enjoy it. I like that it echoes my father's appearance, and mi abuelo's, too. Because nowadays you couldn't catch me wearing fake color in my eyes. I love brown eyes. And especially my brown eyes. Get it? I love my eyes. As they are. Myself. As I am.
And these all changed and became apparent for their true shapes when I turned to look at what I had been avoiding for so long. That's how I know.
This dynamic of sublimated/disguised thought is exactly why "intention" is irrelevant when we talk about the White Lens and about Racism and about all these issues. Because in this culture we become brainwashed unless we have painful teachers (our own personally-based realizations and experiences with media and other humans) to remind us that the programming does not include us. And because if you are White® 'round here, you would not bump into that shell, that edge, that reason to remember that you have been inculcated with a paradigm of thought that necessitates the standards of White Supremacy.
And when your brain has been programmed, how relevant is what you "intend"? Hell, you don't even know what you really intend in those cases, half the time.
The reason I use many images of myself in this blog is not just because I'm a show-off performer-singer-actor lookitme type person. It is because the journey I make here is so very much about identity. So much about "race" and how this figures into my self image.
Some have said to me, so dismissively "Oh you think too much about this/worry too much about this/crow too much about that/make too much of this." Aside from being the most amazingly insensitive and stupid things to say, they are also precisely wrong, and such thoughts are, in fact, tied to the same roots that feed from the perpetuation of White Supremacist thought. They are invested in my not awakening.
Not thinking about this for so long led to nothing healthy. It led to confusion and sublimation and anger and self-loathing and projection, and—O, a host of things. A host of ideas and non-ideas and knee-jerk movements and wrong turns that I no longer want to repeat. I am thinking about this just as much as I need to. And when I am done, I will move on. Lately, I've even begun to have passages of time where all of THIS just fades and I feel normal. Okay in my skin, not thinking constantly about WHO I AM or WHOM I DON'T BELONG TO or WHAT I AM or IF I LOOK WHITE OR MEXICAN and all the rest of that. This is something else! And it feels good to not be so consumed with all of it. And that's where I want to be. But I won't get there by not talking, not thinking, not writing. I will get there by finally looking into myself and at all those things I had run from. I am getting there by doing just what I am doing. But it is true that while I do it, I kick up some feelings. And not just in myself.
In the Summer time (even Spring) my skin reacts to sun very quickly. I can get very dark. Last summer I got so dark an Indian (Native American) friend was frustrated by it. "Damn. What were you...outside forever? You're darker than me, and I'm Indian!" She was jealous. But in a friendly, funny way. This is a new reason for me to love Spring and Summer. I can get as dark as I want. And it erases the ambiguity. In fact, it even scares people sometimes and I really get that full "brown man" experience. That is not the part I like. I actually was completely surprised when I began meeting that reaction in earnest. I think, sometimes, that I probably have a pretty interesting experience of this because I can move back and forth a bit from not-so-brown to damn-brown. Although not as much as I used to think. Because just because you are thinking you are White®, you forget that others can see your Brownness if they don't choose not to. Very often. That is why I would get spoken to in Spanish and similar experiences. This is what begins to make for so much confusion, this gap that can grow between how others see you and how you see yourself. Because the truth is, I tried to unsee all those startling and unsettling elements that would reflect from mirrors. It wasn't that I just denied them physically (names, contacts, hair) but that along with this movement, I was beginning to deny these elements psychologically. To the point that I would look in the mirror and I just couldn't even tell what my skin looked like anymore. A slight change of angle would shift it back and forth.
But as I said, in the summer, the brown settles obviously into my skin and ties my eyes, and hair together in one soothing, complete feeling of brownness. And I like that.
When I lived in Postcard Town, NY (not a real name, a ritzy very White neighborhood I speak of sometimes where I began to really think on a lot of these things) it was that first Summer that everything changed, reactions becoming odd. It was that Summer that, when my mother came to visit she was so impressed by how dark I looked she called her friend who was expecting me at the DMV for a license renewal to warn them that it was still me holding the ID card. I was surprised she did that. But perhaps that is how startlingly dark I can get. I like the brown. In the Winter, I feel yellowish.
A lot of the problem, when you are looking at yourself as White®—when you are of a pigmented "race"—is that your measures are standards that default to White As Beautiful. So suddenly, instead of seeing yourself showing a skin tone that can be traced mentally back to Indians and sunny, southern, lands; you see it and how far it varies from Pink and say, instead, that it looks "sallow" or "yellow" or "sickly" or "greenish." But does it? Or are you using the wrong measuring stick? When White Supremacy has been laid into your brain, you don't look at being relatively small as a sign that you are connected not to big caucasoid frames, but rather to smaller, lithe, Indian frames. You think (and are told) that you are defective. Because you are defective in comparison to a false standard. To a standard you ought not to be using.
If everyone around you had fingers that were nine inches long and never told you that having your-length fingers was a sign that you descended from the Human tribe, you would grow to see your fingers as lacking, dinky, inferior, ineffective, ugly, deformed. But surprise, surprise. One day you see pictures of Human Beings. You are overjoyed. You feel amazing kinship and self-acceptance. You had been using the wrong standard all along. Your mind has been infested with a bad idea.
Because White is an idea. And for me, it is not the right idea.
I cannot be "Half-White," because I cannot have half a brain of White Supremacist thought. I cannot be "Half-White," because I don't want mirrors to buckle and flip in front of my eyes anymore. I cannot be "Half-White" because I cannot exist as a division defined. I cannot be "Half-White," because the idea of White is one of not being touched, tainted, or aligned with the Brown™. And I am descended of and a member of the Brown™. And I am damn proud of it. And I am proud throughout all of myself and my heart and my body. Not just half.