Photo: Me and my mom, in Brazil.
To read my the post leading up to this one, check out “Why Can’t I Be Both: Questions on Binaries, Privilege and Activism.”
My first reaction to #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen was: YES. Now we’re talking.
My second reaction was: Wait, where do I join in on this conversation?
After a few days of monitoring the hashtag, I retweeted a few things and eventually decided not to say anything. Because, you see, I am not exactly a white woman. But I’m not quite a woman of color either.
So who do I join in solidarity with?
I’m not the first person to bring up this dilemma. Ana Cecilia Alvarez and Daniela Ramirez have written some eloquent pieces on navigating their privileges as white Latinas within varying socioeconomic environments. They both speak to feelings of not being Latina enough for Latin@s, yet not feeling quite white either.
I especially related to their expressed confusion around what constitutes racism. My experiences with race are intrinsically tied to my gender and perceived sexuality, such that I have never experienced institutionalized racism. But I know well that feeling of being the “other.” Most of the time, it’s not because of how I look but how I identify myself to people. Let me tell you, the sexy Latina stereotype is alive and kicking, y’all. People still think Brazilian women wear dental floss bikinis on the daily and I swear I can feel my ass growing in the eyes of men after they find out where my brown side comes from.
Please don’t mistake all that for complaining, though. Though those rude comments certainly stem from racism, I wouldn’t say that I have really experienced blatant straightforward racism like so many of my hermanas have. In general, I move through the world with ease, and with almost unlimited access to white privilege.
But even knowing this, I’m still confused.
I grew up with a powerful mother, and rarely felt that being a woman would hold me back. The only place where I understood that I truly needed feminism was when it came to being objectified. When someone–already hitting on me–found out that I was Brazilian. It’s only now that I understand those experiences as my introduction to intersectional feminism.
This framework has helped me greatly to understand what it means to live at the intersection that I do: woman, Latina, white. But I’m still working to allow myself to live outside of the neat categories society boxes us into: person of color, white person. Oppressed, oppressor.
When we divide things into these false binaries, we become convinced that in speaking to our own experience, we can speak for only one experience, when in reality we all shift between various stages of privilege and power in each situation we move through. Too often we silence ourselves because we can’t fully represent either side of the spectrum.
But the reality is that I hover somewhere closer to the middle, passing back and forth between worlds. And I’ve learned that there is a certain value in that. This flexibility allows us to learn from and empathize with a greater variety of experiences, and makes it possible to build bridges between movements. It helps me as I work to be an ally and activist.
For all that it is confusing and complicated, I’m starting to believe that I might just be lucky to live at the intersection that I do.
*Wondering why I write “Latin@s” instead of “Latinos?” Because the “@” incorporates both the masculine ending “o” and the feminine ending “a.” Latin@s is more inclusive by acknowledging both men and women.