Oh, post-racial America…It’s almost silly to think we’re even there, isn’t it?
Being accepted as a member of white suburbia comes with a complex set of challenges that extends down to my daily diet. Because they have coded me as “not that black,” the white people in my life are comfortable airing their deepest insights into black people, and often, those little observations concern food. A boyfriend once told me: “I’m not trying to be racist. I’m just saying that on campus, there was a Subway and a KFC right next to each other. There were never black people at the Subway and there were always black people at the KFC. I’m not saying the stereotype is bad, I’m just saying maybe there’s something to it. I’m just saying.”
And because of what he was “just saying,” I’m hyperaware of what I’m ordering if it’s remotely black-people related. I love me a good crispy chicken wrap, but sometimes just can’t bring myself to order it, lest someone tacitly think, “of course.” If I get the urge to order breaded chicken while I’m out, I try to dress it up a bit—Cordon Bleu (pronounced with the appropriate accent, natch) usually does the trick. If it’s a catered affair and fried chicken is the only choice, I sometimes wonder if I should mention aloud that I’m really in the mood for halibut and am disappointed at the presentation of the poultry, or just lie and say I’m vegetarian.
-Aydrea Walden. “Eating While Black: How I Navigate Watermelon, Fried Chicken, and Frozen Yogurt”
It’s tough for me to really have a stance on this. The problem is that I don’t really look all that minority. Rarely do I have people know or guess that I’m anything but a typical white American unless I happen to be in Miami. As unsavory as it reads, I pass for white. Much like Ms. Walden, I “act white” so much so that my ex-girlfriend likes to tell me, “Dan, you’re not really Hispanic, you know that?” She’s wrong, of course, it’s as much a part of my identity as anything else, only, unlike Ms. Walden, it’s not obvious. I don’t pick up a taco and wonder what people think of me because I’m fairly certain that most people have no clue what my ethnicity is.
Still, the question of how to act and how to navigate this world does get really confusing. I had a man at a supermarket tell me once that the Spanish option on the card reader was insulting. “It’s America, right? Learn English!” I looked at him like he was from Mars. Couldn’t he tell that I would be offended by this? Shouldn’t he know that I’m in favor of Spanish being one of the official languages of the US (like in Quebec, but not with French)?
I can definitely sympathize with worrying about proliferating stereotypes. I dress, speak, and act in a very specific way to not appear stereotypically Hispanic. I avoid certain facial hair styles, I avoid wearing large jewelry, I avoid specific cologne scents all in the service of not enforcing Latino stereotypes.
On the flip side I find myself torn by wanting to embrace my identity. To not want to hide behind my disguise. My parents specifically taught my brothers and I English first to avoid giving us accents. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind having one if it meant I could speak Spanish better. I love listening to Spanish music and I will put it on anywhere. The lack of good Latin food in DC is probably my biggest complaint about the area.
I sometimes wonder what my cousins think of my brothers and me, if they even think about us at all. Are we, to borrow a Black term, Tom-ing it up? Are we, to them, not really culturally similar? I want to be both things. I want to be judged as a man without ethnicity, but I also want to be a part of my parents heritage. They laugh at us when we try to embrace their culture too much, but that just leaves me lost and confused. I worry about potential children I might have. How will I teach them how to embrace their Hispanic selves without further diluting their culture?
Check out that article in the quote, if you haven’t. It’s pretty good.