When you become aware of all the things that you unintentionally do and/or say which perpetuate white supremacy, you’re left to decide if you will continue to do and/or say those things.
I came to that realization during the second year of my graduate program. I remember making very real decisions that impacted and shifted a lot of what I did, subconsciously or unintentionally.
By upholding this narrative, of getting an education, we are shaming those of us who simply cannot.
For starters, I am very colloquial, meaning that I write and speak the same. How I speak to my mami is how I speak to my partner, and it is how I present in university settings. Ever since I migrated to this country, it has been rammed down my throat that I need to represent my migration as worthwhile by becoming a highly educated productive member of society. While this narrative is maintained and upheld by everyone, seldom do we hear about the many obstacles that are placed in the way of immigrants that make it nearly impossible to get out of the lower income bracket of society. By upholding this narrative, of getting an education, we are shaming those of us who simply cannot. Lack of desire is not the problem, lack of resources is more like it – and unbeknownst to ourselves the few of us who “make it” promote the idea that we all should be able to “make it” by upholding the elitist white standards of excellence. We uphold it all by using our colonizer’s dialect, and big words, to gain acceptance into their circles while inadvertently ostracizing ourselves from our home circles. When we are consistently told that gaining access and acceptance into those circles is how we “make it,” we do it and we do it happily. So once I realized that I had been doing this very thing, I began to reclaim speaking to people like I speak to my mami. I speak to people like I needed to be spoken to before I was given access to all the education I have, I speak to our people out of love and patience. I speak to our communities with the understanding of someone who became a mannequin for whiteness, but took my strings off the minute I realized what it all represented.
This learned shame is oppressive and problematic at its core because we are giving our colonizers the power to control us even when they are not around.
I now curse, whenever I want. I never cursed growing up, as a “good Christian girl” I was told very clear things about what made me a marriageable woman, a good woman. In that list, was cursing. In my household, no one cursed. Now, of course, I went through a phase in high school where every other word I said was cushioned between “fuck” and “ass;” but I knew how to turn that off. I knew that as soon as I got home, I had to code switch to “good Christian girl” speak. When I got to college the sense of moral superiority overcame me. I was nearing what had been taught to me to be a marriageable age, and the time for cursing had come and gone. Of course, I met a “nice Christian boy” who I married and who kept the code of moral and ethical superiority with me. Then I began to become familiar with respectability politics and the many ways that we adhere and behave in certain ways to be respected by white people. The white standards of “proper” were embedded into the moral and ethical superiority code that I adopted. For better or for worse, I had become the one thing that I resented when I was younger for the sake of doing what respectable young women were supposed to do and want. Upon realizing the very real ways in which my life was not my life but simply a reflection of what had been taught to me from a very young age, I began to burn. I began to get angry at myself and wanted to defy those very things which were embedded in my own Christian upbringing. Things that were taught to me without regard for how they would make me into a soldier on the wrong side of the war on social injustice. So now I curse, I curse with reckless abandon because if someone does not respect me because of some inconsequential curse words instead of paying attention to the actual words pouring out of my heart then fuck them. When I curse I weed out the people who uphold white supremacy, whether intentional or not.
I speak Spanglish. As a non-citizen and as a Latina, I often times watch videos of USA bigots who say things, on video, like: “Speak English, you’re in America.” I, myself, have experienced this sort of ignorant vitriol, based on the idea that the USA is a land that belongs to a single language; as if that’s ever been the case. At the age of 10, I remember being teased because my brother and I were speaking Spanish to one another. I remember that feeling of shame. I remember that feeling which I then passed on to my mami and papi who never learned English. I remember feeling embarrassed when they would speak to me in public. This learned shame is oppressive and problematic at its core because we are giving our colonizers the power to control us even when they are not around. To speak Spanglish to me means to reject the idea that I need to pick between my native tongue and this new language I have learned. To speak Spanglish to me means to acknowledge that I am a product of two very different contexts. To speak Spanglish means I do not code switch for people’s comfort, rather I exist as fully liberated as a non-citizen can within the walls of Imperial Amerikkka.
For me, living in these realities has been hard because it is all an adjustment. Whether I like it or not, people still expect me to adhere to these rules. Rules that we horizontally enforce onto other POC by constantly pushing one another into white-supremacy-loving boxes that are killing us. Yet, it feels important – scratch that – it feels urgent to do these subtle acts of resistance in my everyday life. Black folks are dying in the hands of local police, refugees are being sent away due to Islamophobia, and entire countries are dying because we refuse to do the least of these tasks. If in the small things I can remain vigilant, then with the large things I will be a titan.