The fact that my mother was repeatedly confused for my nanny during my childhood is evidence alone of my white privilege. While I do not pass for white in every social situation, the fact of the matter is that I am still light-skinned. In the hierarchy of skin tone, that puts me toward the top. It’s true that I’m not porcelain and, yes, I could get darker than my vampiric tendencies allow, but, nonetheless, I am more yellow than brown. Like so many biracial people (and almost regardless of racial make-up), I have a “medium” skin tone. And as evidence that colorism pervades our language, what we call a “medium” skin tone is still rather light. Ignoring my white privilege would mean ignoring one of my greatest advantages in the fight against racial inequality.
In an interview with The Guardian last year, biracial actor Jesse Williams perfectly articulated the chameleon status of our ilk. He said, “I have access to rooms and information. I am white and I am also black. I am invisible man in a lot of these scenarios. I know how white people talk about black people. I know how black people talk about white folks. I know I am there and everyone speaks honestly around me.”
Though there were times I thought it would be easier to simply pass as white 24/7, I always felt that I was erasing part of myself in the act. Many biracial people, myself included, experience confusion and frustration over their racial identity and how others perceive them, but, in the long run, it is healthier and more productive to equally claim both sides of our racial heritage. In doing so, we can honor our ancestors and attempt to rectify racial injustices. When you’re biracial and raised by both parents, it’s as Williams said: You have access to both sides of the story—the white story and the story people of color know. That’s knowledge that you should choose use for good.
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Having white privilege is not the same as being white (although whiteness is in of itself a social construct. Just ask the Irish, Italians, and Jews who, less than 150 years ago, did not pass for white.) This is why white-passing biracial people have a moral obligation to use their privilege to support their brown and black family and friends in whatever way they can—within reason, as our emotional energy will allow. Not everyone has the willpower to constantly fight. It’s admirable but exhausting. That being said, we should always hold ourselves to a high standard because even little, everyday things can make a difference. Don’t let your employer throw out candidates’ resumes because of their names. Don’t let your school dump all of the students of color in lower track classes by default. Don’t vote for Donald Trump and don’t your loved ones vote for him, either.
We biracial folks have the power to enact social change as insider-outsiders and we can start by leading candid conversations about race with our friends. Then we need to progress to leading those conversations in white spaces where discussing race makes people uncomfortable. Whoever coined the phrase “when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression” could not have been more right. Shake up the people in power. Get on their nerves and get them to think. This is something that we as white-passing biracial people are uniquely positioned to do. So let’s do it.
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