I am not a white woman.
I have no idea what’s like to be one.
But I grew up with white people all around me.
My teachers were white. The principal was white. And my classmates were mostly white.
The actors in the shows I watched were white.
The main characters in my favorite cartoons were white.
The store clerks in the mall were white. The mannequins in the store windows were also white. Even the Santa taking pictures with nervous children were white.
White police officers. White bank tellers.
White authors on the back of story books.
White models on the covers of magazines.
White people reporting the news about the white politicians sitting in office.
White meant leadership. White meant authority. White meant the people “in charge”.
They ran and operated the world I lived in.
And they were beautiful. Their glowing white alabaster skin. Their shiny golden hair. Their spectacular blue eyes. They were all so beautiful.
It was the white world I grew up in. A world that looked so sparkly and clean like freshly fallen snow. They were “the good guys”. and the standard that may have not been attainable but what I would compare myself to.
So who was I?
I was a brown girl. A brown girl with a name that was difficult to pronounce. A brown girl who desperately dreamed her name would be called out at the end of an episode of “Romper Room and Friends”. A brown girl who longed to buy a monogrammed pen or key chain at the souvenir shop. They had “Tracy”,“Amy”, “Jessica” and “Susan” but not my name. Never my name.
A brown girl who lived at a home where no one sounded white. My mother spoke very broken english. And my father spoke with an accent that was sprinkled with mispronunciations. And most of all, a home where no one looked white.
Brown eyes. Brown hair. And brown skin.
When other kids would color in their coloring books they would color in the long flowing princess hair. Then they would color the eyes and the gorgeous ball gown. But never the face. The page was already white.
When I colored in my book, I colored the hair brown because I loved my brown hair. And the eyes blue because I always wanted blue eyes. But when it came to the skin, I hesitated. If I didn’t color her skin, she did not look like me but when I did color her, she no longer looked appealing. She looked brown.
Living in a white world, didn’t make me want to actually be white. But it made me long for the white experience. To be in a world where everywhere I went and everywhere I looked I saw people who looked like me. They would know how to say my name. I would see pictures of “my kind” on glossy magazine covers. And when they saw me, I would remind them of their own.
I knew that no matter how “white” I pretended or acted to be, the teachers never saw themselves in me. My mother was never on a first name basis with the teacher, nor did they make small talk after school chuckling about needing a glass of wine. We didn’t drink.
And no matter how “white” I thought I was because I spoke accent-free english, wore pants and a t-shirt, and ate my pb&j sandwiches – I wasn’t. It just wasn’t enough. I imagined myself to be a milk chocolate chip in a tub of vanilla ice cream.
However, there comes a time when any brown person who is confused about their identity comes to terms with who they are and who they are not. I was not white, that was for certain! So who was I? I was brown. And just like white is not just a skin color but a life experience, so was brown. However I wasn’t brown in a brown world. I was brown in a white and brown world (chocolate chip in a cookies and cream tub). What this meant was that I put on a white cap at school where I didn’t want to smell like the curry my mom made for me but at home I couldn’t get enough of it. At school I used a certain language or slang that would make my mother blush if she ever heard me. And at home I used my mother tongue when speaking to my parents, respectfully. When we had special occasions I could not wait to have my hands covered with intricate henna designs. But when I got to school I would keep my sleeves pulled over my hands or keep my hands in my pocket as much as possible. There was no pride in being brown in a white world for me. And in my brown world there was guilt for not feeling proud of my brown identity. Thus the tug that played out throughout my youth.
When I started my junior year of high school, I had two groups of friends. My white friends that I joked and hung out with. And my brown friends who understood why I didn’t have a boyfriend or dated. They didn’t either. We understood our struggles without saying them out loud; there was a silent nod that acknowledged the “My parents said I wasn’t allowed” statement. None of us were allowed.
After leaving high school and entering college, something changed for me. I began seeing more and more of “my kind”. But I also came across those who wore their brown with confidence. I was so impressed by how they identified themselves as brown even in the vanilla world. They acknowledged being a chocolate chip but not as being lost in the vanilla. But as those who stood out. The chocolate chip that felt a certain sense of pride for being different. Maybe I was reading my brown manual upside down before but this time it all made sense this time.
My brown skin was my skin. It may have not seen figures or characters of its own kind. But my skin was still my own. Unique to me and unique to my experience. I was never meant to see myself in others but instead I was meant to see myself for me. It was okay that I was not white but lived in a white world but with a brown and white experience. This was and is my story. And like myself this is the story of many minorities growing up in America. The struggle of us and them lives in the hearts of each individual but when those sides inside of us make peace with each other we start using the term “We”. A “we” that embraces individuality and identity.
I am not a white woman and I don’t have any idea what it’s like to be one.
However, I am a brown woman and I have a life story of what it’s like to be one, especially in a white world.
We are just as beautiful and unique as any other woman of any other shade.
May 14, 2020
I am not a white woman.