White-Passing POC Need to Acknowledge and Work Against Our Privilege
White-passing people of color possess a type of privilege that is similar, but not the same, as white privilege. Unlike white privilege, which is a constant, white-passing privilege is conditional.
White-passing people may be perceived as white in certain circumstances and are then afforded the same privileges as white people. But, as soon as our status as people of color is discovered, those privileges are almost always revoked. However, we always benefit from colorism, both in white and POC circles. We may be told that we seem “less threatening” or that we are somehow “more appealing,” among other colorist remarks. We cannot tolerate these sorts of remarks and must actively call them out instead of passively accepting them. We also must acknowledge that we experience racism differently from other people of color. In order to ensure that our activism aids all people of color and not just people like ourselves, we need to accept and acknowledge our privilege and actively work against it. That means that we must be proactive in our learning of social issues that may not directly affect us, avoid hogging the spotlight, remain vocal when faced with racist attitudes, and avoid usurping activist movements.
Though we, too, are often the victims of racism, we need to acknowledge that the most violent forms of racism will likely not affect us personally. This is but one of many privileges that comes with being white-passing. Though I am half-black, I will likely never experience police brutality because of my skin color. Therefore, we need to be mindful of the space we take up in activist circles. Before speaking up, we must be certain that we are not speaking over the more at-risk members of our community. We also must be aware of our own ignorance. Since we do not experience racism in the same way as other people of color, we need to be careful that we do not minimize the experiences of other people of color. Instead, we need to educate ourselves on these issues instead of judging them based off of our own experiences alone Something that may not appear to be a major issue for us may affect other people of color in more obvious ways. To ignore these issues is to side with our own oppressors.
We also need to be more vocal in our daily lives. Since we often pass as white, some white people may lower their guard around us and make racist comments they wouldn’t ordinarily make around people of color. This happened to me frequently when I was in high school at a predominantly white school, and still occasionally happens to me. We need to confront this type of behavior instead of remaining silent, as long as it won’t put us or others in danger. Even if the remark isn’t about us specifically, or even about our own race, we cannot be silent and force more visible people of color shoulder the burden alone.
Due to our conditional privilege over other people of color, we also need to be mindful that we do not dominate the discourse. Our proximity to whiteness tends to make us more appealing to white society, and frequently we and other lighter-skinned people of color are often centered in the discourse. Our voices are often amplified the loudest. We need to actively fight against this. It is far too easy for us to simply usurp the movement towards equality because we have certain advantages. If we take up too much space within the movement, we run the risk of pushing some people out or perhaps swaying the movement in directions that do not fully benefit everyone. Instead, we need to take time to listen before we speak, educate ourselves on when to pull back, and to make sure activist spaces are accessible to everyone.