The Trouble with Passing

Hi, My name is Shannon Murphy. Born in Ceiba, Puerto Rico and I call Luquillo, Puerto Rico home. I was raised between there and Pennsylvania. I am a Taurus. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. I have a Bachelors in Psychology. And I am Latina. But I am also passing. Now for those of you who don’t know what Passing is. Here’s the Urban Dictionary Definition, “When a light-skinned person is so close to the white race, it seems as if that person is white.” And in the current state of the Union, life is without a doubt easier when you are lighter.

Now Passing comes with a series of benefits that I take advantage of, even sometimes unknowingly. These benefits usually stem from White Privilege. A matter that is very divisive and that many people try to avoid talking about, to the point where after reading some of the definitions I have decided to not even include it because it would’ve just stemmed a troll war. But any way…What are these benefits?

Well for starters, when I speak Spanish, the remarks from the Caucasian race tend to be something along the lines of “Wow, it’s good to speak two languages. How did you learn to speak it with no accent? Did you study abroad?” Versus when my darker mother, or even ethnically ambiguous sister speaks Spanish they get the response, “This is America, speak English”

Another? When I’m in the mall, and the alarms go off, no one questions me, security hasn’t ever been called and I’m told it’s just a machine error and to have a good day. But when this happens to someone darker, they get to be pulled aside, security comes around, and have their bags and receipts checked.

Or my personal favorites, the joy of being able to wear dreadlocks, or a head-wrap without a problem. Getting to dress up the way I choose, with big door knocker earrings, and F*** Me Lipstick, in a plaid shirt, leaning like a Cholo, without a second glance. While those who pass by would say that I look “bohemian”, “exotic”, “ironic” and “Urban” cause they think they may have seen Kylie Jenner wear the same things. While those with more melanin are questioned on their cleanliness, their affiliations, their religion, and their legality. I get to be tattooed and not have anyone question the ink for the way they look, for their meanings, are they gang related? No, they’re expressions of me. But for other Latinos, they could mark you as a banger.

Because I am passing, no one really questions my ability, my prerogatives, my reasons for doing anything or being anywhere. I am just simply allowed to exist when I want and where I want because I am Passing. But I try to be vocal for those that don’t have these privileges in the least white-savior way possible, cause at the end I am not white, I don’t identify as white, and I will never identify as white. I am Latina, I was raised with Spanish music, eating Spanish food, asking for “bendiciones”. When I was sick, I got vaporub, when I was bad I got “La Chancla” and when people commented on my hair I was told I was lucky I didn’t have “Pelo Malo” even though that isn’t a thing . I have explained plenty of times that I know my privilege. I am a light skinned Latina, who speaks English with no accent, and my code-switching is at the top of it’s game, and my name is violently Irish causing no immediate conflicts.

The fact that I can be abundantly open with my emotions and never really have to check myself. I can say borderline whatever I want, and criticize however I please and when I am critiqued, I will be judged by what I have said and nothing more. My race will not be a factor, the way I speak will not be a factor, and the color of my skin will not be a factor. I will not be labelled as the “Crazy Latina” or the “Feisty Puerto Rican”.

The trouble with Passing is the fact that I am given privilege that others deserve more than me. Minority stories and experiences have value and should be heard and the fact that there have been numerous times in which that story has to come out of the white filter to be accredited is simply wrong. Minorities want to be a part of the narrative, they have worth, and lessons that can be learned through them. So when one is told that their experiences aren’t enough and aren’t valued until the white community has decided to validate them, well that is infuriating.

The problem that affects me most directly is I have the privilege to exist in two worlds but never fully in one. I could make my life easy and pass forever, take full advantage of a system that will be in my favor for the foreseeable future, but my roots are too strong for that, I stand with my people through thick and thin as they have for me. But when I come to exist in the Latino world, there’s always something just not 100% right about me, like a photocopy where the ink ran out and a small piece is missing. My name will continue to keep me sticking out like a sore thumb until I say my mothers maiden name and remind people “Soy Berrios”, with the rolled “R” but then sure enough at any party they may ask me to dance, and I love dancing, but that’s when Murphy comes out and my legs don’t connect to the ground in the right time, with the same rhythm and in the same tempo as my partners. Having dancing partners walk away from me because I don’t know how to salsa correctly, or dance bachata, I can’t even manage a simple two step. It makes me obviously the Gringa, and then comes the name calling, being Gringa, Blanquita, y Guera. When that happens I don’t know what to do. When I get harassed about being Latina, I can handle that. I have every fact down, and every rebuttal at the ready. But when I am called White, I feel myself shrink, I don’t know what to do or what to say because in my head I’m not white.

That Raza isn’t me. I benefit from the case of mistaken identity no doubt, but that’s not who I am. Soy Boricua, y esto es todo. But as long as I will continue to be am exception to the rule, and I continue to pass, best believe I’ll use that privilege to be the speaker for those who can’t. Because in the Trump-Era, the minute an accent is detected it quickly becomes discredited; when a foreign name is involved then the story behind it and the experiences are null and void, when you aren’t the perfect shade of white your voice and the mic you hold runs the chance of being turned off.

Until the day comes where every voice is heard the only advice I have is never be complicit, stand up, make yourself be heard. If you claim to be an ally do so in the fullest sense of the word, share the burden.

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