It all hit me. The night after attending a school event where a speaker named Theo Wilson came to discuss what he faced and continues to face as a black man in the U.S. left me joking around with him after his speech, and holding in tears on the walk back to my dorm. I had just been going through family photos (deleting some, yes), and the mental image of my father was prominent and his words were seeping back into my mind.
Both of my biological parents are Latino, my mother being South American and half of my father’s family being Mexican. To some I am white-passing, and other people (both Latino and white) call me out for being a little darker than “tan white”. And now it’s a simple answer, I’m mixed. But had you asked me while I was living under my father’s roof, I would have probably provided a different answer.
I get my white passing-ness from my father. He can shave his face and hair a certain way and look “tan white” just like I do when my skin gets pale in the winter, or when my hair gets lighter. But while I hate feeling like an outcast on my mother’s side, as they all embrace her and my sister’s beauty with their dark curly hair and tan skin that Kim Kardashian would kill for, my blonde hair blue-eyed sister and I sit there in uncertainty of where we fall into place. And yet I recognize we won’t face comments or blatant resentment of others because of our race. Even if we’re not white, we look white.
For my father, it’s undeniable that he views his whiteness as a blessing. He loved being compared to Eminem in appearance, and never checked off that Hispanic/Latino box on applications of any kind. Maybe this is what earned him a job in a privatized prison in California.
I was in kindergarten when he worked in this prison as a guard, and I was sixteen years old and a junior in high school when I sat in class as the documentary “The 13th” played in class and the prison he worked in came up on the screen. I felt my heart sink into my chest, neither of my parents had told me the truth behind where he worked and the more I learned the more disgust I had for him built up inside me.
I had remembered him making comments about my best friend, a mixed girl ever since we had been friends since we were nine. I had remembered him using a racial slur to refer to his own brother’s mixed children, after he married a Haitian woman. I remembered his white grandfather, who married a Mexican woman, throw around the n-word like it was an adjective, and I remembered how my father would remind me of the consequences of what would happen if I dated a black man.
What breaks my heart about this time in my life isn’t the fact that my father is a racist. What breaks my heart is the simple fact that he was trying to instill these beliefs into his mixed daughters. That he was trying to act as though colored people are the problem. That he was blaming the prisoners he interacted with entirely for ending up in there when he was working there right after the War on Drugs which required more prisons and privatization to begin in the first place. How could he stand by and watch his grandfather verbally oppress his grandmother? How could he call black men slurs, or deadbeat fathers, or criminals when he can’t recognize the traits he had labeled to this people, as traits he himself possessed?
The irony in it all? I now have a mixed sister who is Afro-Latina (post my parents divorce). And maybe that’s what got me choked up, maybe that’s what pissed me off, maybe it’s people like my own father that cause me to fear for the safety of my sister. Because as a toddler, her attitude and beauty and intelligence is overwhelming and terrifying. I remember being upset when I initially heard about her arrival, for the simple fact that I pay the most attention to politics out of everyone in my family and I wanted to know what they were thinking bringing a black and Latin girl into the world right now. How her mom’s ex-husband would probably degrade her based on her race before she was even out of the womb, like he degraded her father. And yet what am I supposed to do now, except love and protect her from those who seek out hating her?
I regret my compliancy most. It’s not that I didn’t question him, it’s not that I didn’t think that half the time what he was saying was false. It’s that I didn’t have the knowledge I needed to even try to refute what he was saying. Both academically (which, I could easily go toe-to-toe with him now, but it’s exhausting) and through personal experiences.
The area I wish I discussed more in depth with him was police brutality. I didn’t know about police brutality, until I could see the different dynamics between my mother being pulled over and given a ticket for tinted windows as the cop kept his hand clutched around his gun, whereas my father could drive his car with blacked out windows, speed, and get a warning and a “sorry, sir”, with both events happening in the same week.
I didn’t understand it until a white cop threatened to rip my more obviously Latin sister out of my mother’s car on Christmas Eve to put her in my father’s car during a custody transfer (my siblings were refusing to go, he called the police.) My mother explained her fear and her daughter’s fears of him, and nothing more was done. She also let the officer know that cops like him are the reason why her daughters are scared of and don’t trust the police. And through my tears, I was trying to utter the words that would get her to stop. There was a mental image on repeat of all of the videos of people of color being shot in their pulled over vehicles while they spoke to an officer. And I couldn’t have been more thankful when she stopped speaking to him, and we cried as my father drove off with my sisters. Knowing he had won. Knowing that calling the cops would reassert his power over my mother, sisters, and I because the police officer would side with him before they sided with the brown woman, and her mixed daughters. Because even my youngest sister, who looks whiter than me was now colored to him upon seeing her mother.
My mother called the police station that night and told them what happened. Upon talking to the officer, he asked if he could come to our house and apologize to my siblings for how he acted. And yet I knew it didn’t work. Two girls, five and ten years old at the time were already traumatized by police officers. And this is what my father can’t see: his actions, the actions of other white individuals in places of power have silenced three young girls into fear and trauma.
The only thing that gets me through that is the knowledge that I grew up to be stronger, that I began to educate myself, and that they’ll do the same. And the time will come for me to explain to them why the cops are so scary, and why they need to be extra protective of our half-sister, and why they should stand up and stand with their colored friends in their schools. Because not being able to change the mind of a racist, too caught up in his own hatred as well as his own fears does not limit myself or the three little girls behind me from changing our city, our state, or our country. And hopefully one day he can see that the fear he instilled in us turned into rage, and drive, and passion. Because once you overcome the fear, you can overcome it all.