Mixed Race But White-Passing: Fatness, Race, and Identity

My latinx hides behind blue eyes, light hair, and peach-colored skin. It’s obscured by my Scandinavian last name, a tongue that can’t roll its Rs, and a mouth that only knows English.

I am what is called white-passing. Yes, there are white Latinx people in the world, but my whiteness is separate from my Latinx heritage, which is, if census records can be believed, largely indigenous and black Puerto Rican. I am also Icelandic, and a whole mish-mash of European countries that I’ll probably never know unless I try out 23andme.

I think a lot about my whiteness.

Passing for white has afforded me many privileges in my life, some I will never fully know. When I speak with authority figures, or sales people, or with colleagues, it is with the confidence of someone who is perceived as white 90% of the time. When I am successful, or even when I fail, I can do so without being compared to all other white people or seen as a dis/credit to my (white) race. And this is all just the tip of the white privilege iceberg.

But being raised by a brown parent fundamentally impacted the way I experience and understand the world. The racism my dad faced, the opportunities that were not afforded to him, all of that shit that happens to you when you are brown in a white supremacist society, meant that even though his children had all the passing privilege in the world, we weren’t prevented from feeling the ramifications of racism throughout our childhoods and beyond.

I think a lot about race and fatness, about how through colonization fatness became inextricably linked with non-white racial identity (for an in-depth analysis of this check out Amy Erdman Farrell’s Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture). About how the only person in my family who pushed me really hard to lose weight, who put me on my first diet at age 9, was my dad. About how his desire for me to do so might be about more than just internalized fatphobia (he was fat, too), but about internalized racism, as well.

I think a lot about my ass.

It’s a huge, stickie-outie bubble butt that is almost entirely muscle. I was taught to be proud of it early on, because even though I was fat (and thus undesirable), I still had this really desirable physical trait, the kind of butt that turns heads and formerly devout boob-lovers into ass-aficionados.

And it’s the only part of me that people ever understand as visibly non-white.

“I’m part Puerto Rican,” I have said, dozens and dozens of times.

“Oh, that’s why your ass is so big,” people always reply.

My relationship with my butt is complicated. I love it–It’s beautiful, strong, powerful, and makes sitting on hard surfaces pretty damn comfy. And, as problematic as it is to say that big butts = not white, it’s the one thing that has ever made feel like my latinx identity was even a little bit visible.

“If you lost weight you would look just like J. Lo,” my step-mom once told me in passing.

But that comment took root in my bones and has stayed with me for decades. (Never mind the fact that I look nothing like her.)

We put race onto bodies. We may not make up the physical distinctions (although sometimes we do), but we are the ones who attach meaning to those differences, who give some kinds of bodies and physical traits more power and privilege. We are the ones who say that some bodies are worth more than others. That shit’s not intrinsic to DNA.

I think a lot about whiteness and browness and fatness and thinness and what about me is visible and invisible. Or hypervisible.

I wonder at least once a day if I’m kidding myself by choosing to identify as white privileged but not white. Am I, as one white grad school professor once put it, simply just a white person desperate to claim otherness?

“Why do you always tell people you’re Puerto Rican? Do you think that makes you special? Why can’t you just let it go?” (An actual thing a white friend said to me in college once.)

I think a lot about Puerto Rico.

Especially lately. (My friend Keila Miranda has been putting out some really informative public posts on her Facebook page for those who want to learn more from an actual Puerto Rican person about what is going on, the history, and what you can do to help.)

But before the storms, too. I’ve been reading Nelson Denis’ War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony since last summer, although I still haven’t finished it. It’s hard to feel so connected and so disconnected all at once.

It’s hard to learn even more about what my people have suffered. The pain that my people (white colonizers) have inflicted on my people (the indigenous and black latinx people of Puerto Rico). The realization that I, a blonde and blue-eyed white-passing person, am the final result of that colonization.

My latinx may be invisible (to you). Complicated. Hard to discern. But it’s there, and I’m not letting it go.

 

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