not in Primary anymore

the gift of whiteness

Image description: painting titled "Temptation of Christ," by Rohann Zulienn. Christ wears a yellow-ish head scarf, with long dark hair poking out, and is looking down at a large rounded stone he holds close to his mouth.

Image description: painting titled “Temptation of Christ,” by Rohann Zulienn. Christ wears a yellow-ish head scarf, with long dark hair poking out, and is looking down at a large rounded stone he holds close to his mouth.

Guest post by Mat Sillito

I am a child of immigrants. Both of my parents emigrated, legally, to the U.S., my father from Canada and my mother from Mexico. I owe my light skin and brown hair to my father, which distinguishes me from most of my cousins on my mother’s side. All four of her sisters married men from south of the border, and my cousins bear the darker skin and black hair that most people expect out of Latinos.

My skin and features have protected me. I have been shielded from most of the racism that I have seen my family experience. I have been a part of it, absolutely, but always as a bit player, a side character, seen and heard the slurs and the threats and police abuses from a safe distance. My white skin almost perfectly covered the brown inside.

I don’t know if that occurred to my mother when she married my father. Her marriage baptized me in the river Styx, covering me in white armor that has protected me almost completely from racism and bigotry, with only a soft Hispanic heel to become exposed on occasion. Her marriage and the genes of my father have made me safe from arrows of racism, arrows that turn clocks into would-be bombs, prayer houses into terrorist cells, hard work and sacrifice of immigrants into accusations about citizenship and “don’t shoot!” into guilty by skin color. In a world of color I am Achilles, walking about in my Latino body carefully sheathed into a “normal” skin. Except for a soft heel that is easily hidden, I am safe.

I wonder about the gifts we are given by our parents. I think about what Jesus told to those who would listen about his father’s gifts. My skin color is not a stone when I asked for bread. It is not a serpent. It has clothed me and protected me, allowed me to walk unafraid in worlds where my brown skin would’ve been a barrier or a target. I think most would agree this is a good gift. My mother, whether she intended to or not, gave me a gift of looking like I belonged.

But Jesus didn’t end there. The blessing of white skin is a good gift, but only in an evil world. It is the gift of evil to shield from evil. The gift that Jesus gave was an earth full of colors. That is the good gift, that too often becomes a curse in an evil world. It is a sad reality in our world that the good gift of diversity too often becomes a stone, being a burden to be carried instead of the good bread it was meant to be.

Diversity can feed us. But that only happens as fast as we disarm ourselves. There is no need for my white armor in a world that has no more arrows. Whether it was her intent or not, I am grateful for the protection that my skin affords. I hope that someday I don’t have to be.

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2 Responses to “the gift of whiteness”

  1. Kat Jones

    I can totally relate to this as well. Coming from a bicultural family I have definitely seen the racism directed towards my family members that I have escaped experiencing because of my light skin. Made me aware of my white privilege from an early age. Great post.

    Reply

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