Black and white. Brown, yellow and red. These are much more than colors. They are indicators of race. In America, they are indicators of where you stand in a racially divided world.
This may sound controversial — to some it may even sound false — but who can deny it? America is still largely controlled by racial divisions. Why is that? Isn’t race nothing but a political concept created to divide and weaken people? Isn’t it a concept that erases rich cultural traditions and creates generalizations?
To call myself brown is to deny my roots and how deep they run. It denies my ability to be more than just a statistic, more than just Hispanic. To be considered black or white (even yellow if people truly use that term) makes you become yet another shade of color on a painter’s palette. Not Mexican. Not Korean. Not Peruvian. Not Cherokee. Not even a member of a people spanning back to the glory of West African nations.
Yet the concept of race has engrained itself into our American culture. With the inception of slavery in 17th century colonial America, the distinction between skin color — and the meaning attached to it — has not only existed in the states, but thrived.
Over the centuries, society has formed well-worn perspectives on what the perfect definition of each race is. This has led to racial extremes: The image of black women is dark-skinned and naturally curvy, with short hair, and et cetera. A Hispanic or Latin woman is short, olive-skinned, with dark brown eyes and long hair.
These ideals are racist on their own; they do not need help in exposing the prejudice behind our society’s interest in crafting racial examples of minority groups.
More than that, these examples are also dangerously inaccurate. Of course, not all African-American women will fit the archetype, nor will all Latinas. While women judged by such standards may know this — the rest of America may not.
The interconnectedness of race with racism is not difficult to understand. Relying on broad terms such as “black” for a diverse group of individuals with ethnic roots spread far and wide simplifies and belittles something that is far more complex. It is the lazy way of dealing with people — it lumps them all into a category and refuses to look at their uniqueness or differences even when examples can be found in every single person you meet.
It can also be incredibly hurtful to be held up to a standard created solely to label you in an easier-to-read package. Even detrimental values are values we unintentionally aspire to reach since they are branded and marketed on the stimuli we’re exposed to in everyday life. Television shows, beauty products, fashion advertising and music are but a few of the subliminal ways we are exposed to standards of race we compare ourselves to.
Would life as women of color be easier if we did away with the idea of race altogether, assuming that is even possible?
Instead of being judged as Asian — a derogatory term misleading and dishonest in its lack of truth — one could be identify as Cambodian, Hmong, Filipino, among several other ethnicities long misrepresented in mainstream America without having outsiders look at you with confusion.
Staunchly defending the background one identifies with would also deny racists and white America the ease of grouping all individuals with the same skin tone, hair texture or any other physical feature into one large, misunderstood group.
The disillusion of racial boundaries may seem like a utopian concept; it may also be just as destructive as being judged as one large minority conglomeration.
While “minority” groups can band together by self-identifying as people (or women) of color, if one chose to identify solely as, say, Puerto Rican, Portuguese, Yaqui and Mescalero Apache such as myself, they could potentially isolate themselves from a larger community fighting the same battles.
What path would you choose in your fight against racism, discrimination and misrepresentation in America? Is it more ideal to identify on the larger scale and accept that the concept of race still exists, or is it more powerful to defy such vague terms to identify with your specific ethnicity? Can you identify with both? Will it even make a difference? Share your thoughts with us in the comments — I look forward to meeting you there.
Written by Kevynn Gomez