This World Is Not Yours: Being mixed-race and ‘almost white’

I can’t call it, the beats make me falling asleep
I keep falling, but never falling 6 feet deep
I’m out for presidents to represent me (Say what?)
I’m out for presidents to represent me (Say what?)
I’m out for dead presidents to represent me…  -Nas, “The World Is Yours”

I’m about as pale as you’ll find a half-Black person to be, and I’m pretty sure I’m half Black because a Black woman gave birth to me. And, well, in some of the world, I can sit around and pass for white okay as long as I stay unnoticed. I’ve heard Black men argue as to whether I was a sister or a snow bunny behind me, I’ve been represented as both hood as you get and the spirit of gentrification on the same day. I can’t in good conscience say the N word, but I’ve sure as hell been called it.

People often wonder why I’m so angry about white people. Well, first of all because pale-skinned privilege is deep: I can be pretty angry and I won’t get shot for it, whereas you know what happens to the more darkly complected folks when they speak up. They get ridiculed or they get murdered. There’s a reason the paler we get the angrier we are, and it’s not just because white folks either tell us we’re not Black or because a lack of eumelanin leads to more anger, but because we can be, because we’re allowed by society to be. We’re not the ones with targets on our backs in society generally.

Of course, though, you know like any bargain, there’s going to be a catch. There’s always a catch. In my case it’s because I’m trans, and I can’t hide my more African features all that well, and given that most self-anointed trans leadership is white and sticks to HBSer principles or some slightly modified “radical” reskinning of them that’s just as “radically” racist (and ableist while we’re at it) I magically go from could-be-white-could-be-anything-really woman walking down the street to being a man of color in trans space. A man who is ascribed to be a sinister invader who is there to man it up and man all over everything. Damn straight my shoulders are broad, but they’re not as broad as my hips; damn skippy my ass is big because that’s how it works for us genetically…for the most part. Sure my frame is large, but that might be consistent with the not-so-natural selection white people employed on my forebears. See, the idea was to make sure we were strong and had tons of stamina, as slavery was predicated on the workers being, you know, extra strong. My frame looks like my sister’s, like my mother’s. It’s not seen as a huge issue by the general public though people do comment that I’m no small lady, but in trans space, it’s used to take away my gender in the most racialized way possible. Even pale skin over that frame won’t save you here.

It’s pretty well-documented at this point that the basic expected role of trans women of color is to be products for white trans leadership’s consumption. We have a couple of brilliant Black trans women, Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, who are making great strides and that’s awesome. But the thing about Ms. Mock and Ms. Cox is that they’re being used as consumable objects by trans leadership, too. Now, they have every right to do that, and damn skippy they should get paid for it. The reality, however, is that sponsoring one of these wonderful women talking and then ignoring trans women of color until we’re a list of names of dead people…well, it’s par for the course. These ladies speak, and then they go on with their lives. The organization points to having invited them as a shield, because hey look we do care about trans women of color, and then expects the balance of us to go away.

Whiteness is policed so many ways in trans organizations that I’ve lost count. It’s policed in size, because you know the biological fact that Black folk are different in average size than white people is apparently lost on our leadership. It’s policed in grooming, by “chemical-free” policies that are enforced disproportionately on people of color when white people can show up doused in scent without ramification, something I still haven’t gotten an answer on, because there’s no such thing as chemical-free hair product. In fact, there’s no such thing as chemical-free water, because WATER IS A CHEMICAL. (I get that avoiding fragrance has benefits that are many, and agree you should in confined spaces, no kidding. But it doesn’t mean policing people out, or if it does, it means policing all scents out, full stop.) Whiteness is policed in body mass, because for some reason fatphobia is downright encouraged by white trans leadership, perhaps as another way the average HBSer protects the desires and patriarchal fears of the cishet white man by punching down on other trans women, despite the whole reality that we can weigh more, in some cases significantly more, and still be ‘healthy’. Whiteness is policed in academic credentials meaning more than actual work someone has done or is willing to do, even when the academic credentials of people of color are totally ignored by our white leadership. So what are people of color, and forgive me for being particular that I’m talking about Blackness because that’s what I can speak to personally, supposed to do in trans organizations?

One: Don’t be involved.

Two: Die, because Gwen Smith needs bodies for her precious list and still won’t talk about race.

We’re not supposed to be involved, we’re not supposed to find out about safe medical access resources (I’ve been told the ‘working girls’ should tell me by an HBSer, since that’s not a gross way to punch down on sex workers or anything), we’re just not supposed to be there, at all.

We’re supposed to disappear. And when we do that, choosing a quieter life, we’re informed that we owe the “trans community” because we’re disappearing and we can’t deal with the passive violence visited upon us by the white folks who claim to be “anti-racist” but keep enforcing their suburban white middle-class core values in their words, actions, and policies. You can’t be “anti-racist” without it being intersectional, and you can’t claim to be “anti-racist” and still force people to comply with those white middle-class values. I have no clue how to be white. I’ve tried really hard. I’ve straightened my hair, I’ve tried to comply with white grooming standards, I’ve tried to be something I’m not to try to have a little safety. I’ve tried to project less when I speak (because let’s be real here, I’m nowhere near as “loud” in decibels as the white people, and when you call me “loud” it’s fucking racist) and I get yelled at for speaking too quietly. If you can’t speak up, and you can’t use your most indoor voice, then what are you supposed to do? Oh, I get it, don’t talk.

I’ve tried whiteness. I’ve tried complying. I’ve tried getting a quality education and pretending I actually enjoy driving a Camry.    I don’t know how to be white, because I shouldn’t have to know how: this is a club that I come somewhat close to admission in, but will never get into, because I can’t actually *be* white. It’s not what I am, and it’s not what we should be basing things on.

And yet, the side effects of toxic levels of whiteness continue apace. For example, listening to people stan for a naturopath who “declines to treat obese patients” because there’s something wrong with us, and yet trumpeting how everyone has healthcare now. Want to explain to me how having healthcare is any good if I can’t use it? Because I’m not really sure what I need to amputate to get to 200 pounds, but that’s the only way that’s happening. Never you mind my bloodwork is gorgeous and my cholesterol in the double digits, fat people are the enemy, because that’s a new way you can enforce racism in a “color-blind” manner. Just like sniffing my goddamn hair while we’re at it. I’ll save the fat thing for another post, but rest assured, it’s just a new way to harm people of color and poor white people too. Oh, yeah, about that…

See, the idea that the cultural elite has that all the racists out there are poor white people in Kansas? Yeah, fuck that noise. Almost all of my white friends are working-class or raised that way, and they’re frankly about as non-racist as you can get. Are they perfect? No. Do they benefit from active and passive racism? Well, yes, all white people do. But do I have to worry around them if I’m going to be chippy about race? Hell no. When  I point out systemic problems, they listen, they often do their own research, and then they go blow shit up on their own. I don’t have to ask my white friends to be my caucasiashield, because they know better.  Oh and more than a few of ’em are from the South. Back up off those nasty-ass elitist assumptions made about white racism and look in the mirror, white queers. Y’all are the ones who engage in this, profit from this, and make snippy comments about Virginia or wherever is en vogue to hate this week, completely forgetting two things: a)there’s still queers back in those places you mock, and b)the active and passive racism displayed by white queers, especially white trans people, makes a week in Florida look like a walk in the park.

Oh, and a whole lot of the queers squeezed out by the idea that urban migration is mandatory? They’re queers of color or poor rural queers generally. When you’re waiting tables at Perkins in Sarasota, Florida, you’re not going to be easily able to transfer your life to San Francisco. We’re already marginalized, and the idea of mandatory urban migration as part of the condition of being queer marginalizes queers of color even worse. See, when you move to the big city and move to a comfortable neighborhood, it’ll be dismissed as “undesirable.” Yeah, I live in what was 10 years ago as ghetto as it got here in Seattle. Now there’s white people holding their shitty irony beer (you know, at least drink Rainier, pleb) and walking their white-ass dogs as my rent soars out of control. And yet, white queers still slag where I live as “undesirable” and “unsafe”, because to be acceptable to white queers, you have to live in whatever the appropriate “gayborhood” is this week.

So there’s another way you’re going to be told you’re not one of us: you won’t be able to afford the “gayborhood”, because you were priced out if it. When you go to stuff, people will concern troll about how you’re getting home (on the bus, the same bus I’ve ridden for years…) but nobody will give you a lift because it’s dangerous, but you’ll hear about it. You can’t be part of this country club, little girl. Maybe it’s not the same where you are, maybe it is, I have no idea. But as the final coup de grace in the bad reality show that is dealing with white “trans community”, you’re basically going to be told you can’t ever be good enough unless you’re white and middle class…and abled…and, and, and, and.

It’s almost like they want you to know you’re unwelcome, and then get angry when you follow through on being told you’re not welcome. Because you owe us something because of what you are, but we give you no way to contribute, because you’re not one of us, you’re not good enough. But you owe us something, and we’ll remind you every damn day.

I don’t owe white people shit unless I’ve borrowed money from you or I said I’d get you back for lunch. That’s three people, and one of you is gonna read this.  And I know the carrot of admission to the country club will forever be dangled before me. Maybe if you just learned to code (even though we tell you you’re too stupid to code) or maybe if you just straightened your hair or maybe maybe maybe.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Fuck your country club.  If you want to get free, we have to build something better.

The way to be, paradise like relaxin’, Black, Latino and Anglo-Saxon
Armani, exchange the reins
Cash, Lost Tribe of Shabazz, free at last
Brand new whips to crash then we laugh in the ill’er path
The Villa house is for the crew, how we do
Trees for breakfast, dime sexes and Benz stretches
So many years of depression make me vision
The better livin’, type of place to raise kids in
Open they eyes to the lies, history’s told foul
But I’m as wise as the old owl, plus the Gold Child
Seeing things like I was controlling, click rollin’
Trickin’ six digits on kicks and still holding’ –Nas, “If I Ruled The World” (Imagine That)