I’m a fair-skinned Métis. And I don’t just mean a little pale, I mean you can signal planes with my skin. I’ve got freckles, and the sun hates me with a fiery passion. I used to have reddish hair, but I actually think that was from all the iron in our water because when I moved into the city, my hair just went brown.
So I get a lot of people assuming I’m white. Which…I am, if white is an inaccurate description of a skin colour. And because people assume I’m white, I have that fair-skinned privilege (until I open my big mouth anyway).
I know it’s not polite, and it’s very much tongue-in-cheek, but sometimes around non-natives I like to make comments about ‘white people’ just to see the reactions. Because people look at me, see my florescent colouring, and think, ‘huh?’ So I say something else…until someone says, “But…you’re white.”
To which I say, “I’m not white, but I’m white.” And I leave it at that.
White is a stupid word. I personally don’t like using it. Mostly because it gives people an opportunity to hijack the conversation with “that’s racist!” But also, the whole history of ‘who is white’ is fraught with ridiculous and arbitrary divisions, and ‘white’ to me comes along with supremist baggage that is ahistorical and well…silly.
‘Whites’ have and still are oppressing the crap out of other ‘whites’ over religious or political differences…which to be honest I don’t want to have to discuss and acknowledge before I go ahead and say what I wanted to say in the first place, thanks. So yeah, I avoid it. Unless I’m in a space where I don’t have to be ‘on guard for accusations of reverse-racism’ all the time.
But I need words to convey meaning, so what do I say instead?
Settlers has become a good term. Non-natives, though this isn’t limited to the so-called ‘whites’. Europeans? A bit clumsy that unless they actually come from Europe and well, Europe isn’t that ‘white’ anyway, no matter what the right-wingers want, so unless I mean ‘someone from Europe’, it’s not a great option.
Each term has its limitation, but I use them because I’m weird like that. (I also refuse to say American to refer to someone from the United States, because I have been lectured soooo many times by latinos on the subject. Citizens of the US, US citizens, USians in a pinch.)
‘White’ comes along with a lot of cultural connotations. Once it’s discovered I’m not culturally white (a concept I don’t even want to bother trying to define as this is an imposed concept, not something made up by ‘non-whites’ to engage in ‘reverse-racism’, sorry), there is a change in how people treat me, positive or negative, depending on the people.
But I am not a POC. No matter how culturally NOT white I am, the fact that I ended up so pale means that is how people see me first. The whole “I’m not white but I’m white” thing started because I was sick of people thinking it was ‘safe’ to be racist around me, believing they had an ally because we share skin tone. (Sort of. I’m kind of paler than most ‘white’ people are too.)
Growing up having pale skin was hellish for me, but I’m pretty much over it now. I can’t do much about it aside from recognising how it affects the way people see me, whether I like it or not. And most of the time, that view affords me privileges I have never earned.
Only rarely is my skin colour a ‘barrier’, and I use that term pretty sarcastically. For example, I wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting myself into a POC-only space because frankly, how is it it worth it to take up people’s time and energy insisting that I belong because I’m native? If I were invited because people already know this and it wouldn’t be an issue…fine…but the fact is, once more, I’m not a POC. I don’t need to be in that space. I can be an ally without inserting myself into those spaces.
Poor me, and the awful ‘barriers’ I face with this pale skin.
Anyway, mocking the fact that I have fair-skinned privilege is something I do a lot, but it doesn’t make it go away. It’s good to remember that, I think.
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