By Sophia Fate-Changer Martinez
When people think of “racism” it is often associated with obvious and loud examples, like when a white police officer murders a black child like Tamir Rice. It is also found in unexpected places. For people of color like myself, it is found coming from our friends, partners, families, and coworkers. Many of the people reading this will know that just because a person may have befriended, is dating, or is related to a person of color, does not make those people exempt from being actively racist with malicious intent, or unknowingly biased, and everywhere in between. Some people indulge in casual racism to “fit in,” or to not seem like a downer when their friend makes a bad joke, but never actually make a racist joke themselves. Let’s face it, no one wants to be the person not laughing in the room, no one wants to be the person to try and correct a friend’s casual racism for fear of rejection, or be accused of “taking things too seriously.” And yet, all people have a responsibility they may be unaware of, or aren’t the type of personality to take those kinds of matters head-on. In any case, casual racism is still racism, and those that do nothing are part of the problem. None of this is new information to most, so let’s get to the point.
Racism is so subtle that it can also come spewing out of the mouths of people of color. To my horror, I saw a friend of mine, also a person of color, preface their Facebook status, “At the risk of sounding stereotypical…” My initial reaction was to say, “You may want to reconsider your friend choices if you feel the need to preface your message in that way.” The rebuttal from my friend was that the preface was a joke, and that most of his friends know that they do not act like a stereotypical [insert race here].
Reading their response brought up a lot of personal experiences for me. Hurtful ones. For the sake of too much information being better than too little, I am going to share the gist of my ethnic make-up. I am half Mexican, and half “white.” I was raised by my “white” half of the family, in a small city where the population is primarily Caucasian. I look like a mixed person, but definitely more like my Mexican half. Before I moved out of the area, I had friends who would justify my existence when introducing me to their other friends by saying, “It’s ok, she’s basically white,” or, “Don’t worry, she’s white-washed.” I would feel accepted, and would laugh it off so that everyone else could feel comfortable and see that I wasn’t scary. I would sometimes even add commentary like, “Yea, I don’t even know any Spanish,” as if that is something to be proud of. I had one bad friend in particular, someone I considered my best friend, who would introduce me to his family and friends as his “spick.” I felt like it was an inside joke that he had made me feel comfortable with, as if it was a term of endearment.
From where I am standing now, none of those people were ever my friends. None of them. Without knowing it, I was allowing, or otherwise making myself, the butt of their jokes. Much like you can enable a substance abuser by keeping quiet about your personal feelings, the same can be applied to bigots. The fact is that I was trying to politely navigate a society where “white” people are taught to question their safety around people of color. They are taught to question whether or not our existence in a room, or the world in general is valid. I got used to justifying my existence to make others feel comfortable, and did so as second nature. Society won, and taught me to be ashamed of who I am.
So now let me break down the reality of my friends post. When I saw it, I didn’t see a joke, I saw a person who was taught to be ashamed of their existence. I saw someone accidentally perpetuating racism, even though they are a person of color. I saw someone unknowingly shaming anyone who might adhere to the cultural stereotype they were so ashamed of being associated with. Considering the comments that followed, I definitely saw someone who needs to heed the advice to reconsider their choice in friends.
But there is more than one option at hand. The choice that this person has is to deeply consider the reality they have been presented with, or to forget that the conversation we had ever occurred. I have been at that crossroad; alone and naked there. I knew that if I took the road of comfort, I would always know deep down that my “friends” would continue on making derogatory comments like they always had, and I would have to ignore the light that had turned on. I knew that if I took the road uphill, that I would feel incredible sorrow and hurt, not only for my choice to back away from long lasting friendships that started in my childhood, but I would also have to face the fact that I was starting at ground zero when it came to loving myself completely. Needless to say, I put in the work and took on the uphill battle. I cried my way to the top, and stood tall in triumph when I got there. For the first time, I had confidence that I was physically beautiful because I am brown, not despite. I have surrounded myself with people that uplift my existence as much as I do, and never let casual racism slip on by in my friend circles. I do my best to educate others on uncomfortable subjects because I believe that is the only way to achieve a better future. I will raise my unborn child to do the same, as I know it is inevitable that at some point my child will have to stare racism in the face, and they will have a choice on how to react. We all have that choice. Pass it on.
Sophia Fate-Changer Martinez
With a thirst for justice, I am committed to exploring conversations no one wants to have in order to make the world a slightly-more-than-tolerable place to exist. I consider myself an actively outspoken Heathen Hedgewitch, a mixture of which tends to have otherworldly side-effects. I enjoy long walks in my cavernous dream realm, from which I often wake suddenly with mixed emotions about the reality of society. Lastly, and I hope not least, I am a member of Golden Gate Kindred in the Bay Area, and an administrator for Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR).