You Don’t Get To Tell Me I’m White




If you’re a white person, you don’t get to tell me I’m just like you.

That’s not rude. It’s true. Your identity is not the same as mine, no matter how much you think I “pass” for white. And I’ll be damned if I let you tell me otherwise.

The other day, a friend of mine made a joke about slavery that was undoubtedly racist. I felt the need to point out the offensive nature of the joke. Many of my Mexican ancestors were sharecroppers on white-owned farms, paid pennies on the dollar for their work and mistreated at every turn, much like their black counterparts in other parts of the South.

These same ancestors lived on the land that is now South Texas for hundreds of years. As immigrants came to this land from all over the world, seeking opportunity or being forced to come in chains, they married into a diverse family that produced my cousins and I who represent every color of human flesh. Personally, my mix is Mexican, Persian and Anglo-Germanic.

I’ve been called a gringo, a sand n—–, a hoodlum, a white boy, a hood kid, a prep — you name it. People like labels, and when they meet someone like me who doesn’t really fit into their defined categories, they go nuts trying to find an appropriate one.

It’s strange being the darkest person in a room full of white people but the lightest in a room full of Mexicans or Persians. It has often given me the feeling of not quite being accepted anywhere. I’m a minority in the United States, but I’m also a minority among minorities. I’m a member of so many cultures that I belong to none.

The truth is, I identify just as strongly with my Mexican side, as I do my Iranian side, as I do my white side. I understand the beauty and the wrongdoings of each culture in the course of world history. More importantly, I understand the value of a human being regardless of the group they belong to. So when my white friend made a joke about owning other people, it bothered me.

Yet when I told them how I was offended, they were appalled. “But you’re white!” they exclaimed, exasperated.

Because apparently, if I pass for white, I am supposed to be complacent with the racism you spew at my people and the brothers and sisters of all races with whom I stand. To discount my experience as a minority is to take away the life I’ve lived alongside the people who have struggled to get by in a society built against them.

By telling me I’m white, you are telling me that I should feel exempt from the struggles of my community. You are telling me I should be complacent in the wrongful incarceration of my friend’s parents. You are telling me that I should forget about the children back home who have died as a result of gun violence. You are telling me that I should stop fighting for the rights of my classmates to get a college education in a system designed to oppress them. You are telling me to be happy my family is trapped in Iran because they could be terrorists.

Being white gives you a lot of privilege. I should know, because I have a lot of it too. But it does not give you the privilege of placing my life above the lives of my brethren.

If there’s anyone who needs to understand, it’s white people. As members of our society who have a fundamental advantage when it comes to access to education, healthcare, housing and social mobility, white Americans have the tools needed to help reform the systems that keep their neighbors down.

Possessing those tools means white Americans not only have the ability but the responsibility to listen to our voices and to help where they can. Of course, we’re not asking you to save us. We’re asking you to stand with us as we struggle for the same basic dignity that many white Americans are granted at birth. That’s a dignity that has been revoked far too many times in my life and the lives of many in my community.

It is because of my shared struggles that, as complicated as my genetic makeup is, I consider myself a part of a larger minority community in the United States. And I will always feel that way, regardless of what color you see on my face. I am asking you to recognize that and to listen to me when I tell you about our experiences. You are in a position to help, but you can only do that when you recognize our differences and the difference in the way society treats us.

Our differences do not make us stand opposed to one another, but they do exist. See that, and help me do something about it.

You can’t call me white. But you can call me a friend.