This semester I have had the privilege of taking a course centered on Critical Race Theory with the ever enlightening and inspiring Dr. Kevin Henry. This course has been one of the most impactful and insightful courses that I have taken in my entire academic career. Not only did it provide me with a space to process and analyze systems of white supremacy, but it also allowed me to feel confident and comfortable in a room full of diverse scholars and activists. This course provided me with a toolbox of articles and novels, that I can further use as I continue to battle racism daily.
With this new found ability and privilege to have complex conversations about systems of oppression, I have found myself in a new and confusing space. I have awoken to the small, yet impactful instances where people make comments or ask questions that no longer can be written off as them not understanding or just wanting to be curious or a case of mistaken identity. I am now faced with the daily instances of having to either be silent, be polite, or give time and effort to correct and educate others. I call this a recent confusion, because I have experienced racist comments, actions, insinuations, etc., my entire life, yet, up until this class I functioned as Montoya (1994) called it, my public self. This allowed me to navigate the world with minimal interruptions and fit into the White society I was raised in. Now, I am torn between exposing my true self and constantly having to battle my experiences of racism or sticking to my public self in order to continue to protect my true self.
In my dilemma, I have begun a journey of self-discovery and assessing whether or not I am able to combat the historically entrenched oppressive systems whose ideals and language have transgressed through the clutches of time. Am I emotionally, physically, mentally, prepared? Initially, my thoughts were no. I am only one person and I can not ACTUALLY make a difference as one person. Yet, after each class discussion, each reading, each film, each conversation, I realized I was not alone. I would not have to navigate my experiences by myself any more. Saying nothing was more harmful than saying something. I could take the risk of exposing my true self and stop internalizing the anguish and grief each racially charged experience brought with it. Now, as I mentioned this has been a time of reflection and self-discovery, so have I mastered how to shut people down when they say or do something racist, no. I am still learning and processing through my own identity and what it means to tell my “Truth” and be me, minus the public self I had carried for so long.
In an effort to show how imperfect this process of self-discovery has been, I wanted to share a story. I recently went to speak to someone regarding my health and nutrition (as part of my path to ensure I was prepared), and everything went ‘normal’ until the nutritionist, who had been laughing casually and making remarks about her ‘southern accent and charm’ the entire time, asked “oh before you go I just have to ask, what are you?” Now, I’m not sure if anyone has ever asked you this question before, but it really hit me hard. My immediate reaction was to blow up at her and let her know that what she just did was not okay. Yet, as I mentioned, I am not there yet. I initially asked her to quantify what she was asking me because I refrained from assuming the obvious. Maybe she needed me to tell her my employment status, my student status, or something else of that nature. Unfortunately, her response was, “like are you Native American, Mexican (which she quickly corrected to Hispanic), or something else? because your skin is just so flawless and your color was just so gorgeous!” *Insert sigh here* Instead of raging on this person, my public self stepped in, I answered politely and walked out, again internalizing my emotions.
I recognize that in my own journey I will make mistakes and I will regret missed opportunities to educate or call out others. In that moment of life, I was not able to control my emotions enough to be insightful or helpful in any way. I realize it is not my responsibility to ‘fix’ people but looking back now I could have easily let that individual know how that question made
me feel. I am not a zoo animal to be oo’d and ahh’d over. I am a person just like anyone else. Sure I may have a glowing tan all year and have been blessed with a clear complexion but there are so many different ways to ask somewhere how they identify ethnically that wouldn’t make me feel as if I was something other than human.
As this semester concludes, I will continue the process of revealing my true self and risking everything to try to demolish white supremacy and systems of oppression as I progress through life. I can not say that it has been easy to navigate this path, but I can truly say that it has been soul altering. I am not the same person I was on the first day of my Critical Race Theory course, and for that Dr. Henry I am eternally grateful.
Espino, M. M. (2012). Seeking the “truth” in the stories we tell: The role of critical race epistemology in higher education research. The Review of Higher Education, 36(1), 31-67. doi:10.1353/rhe.2012.0048
Montoya, M. E. (1994). Mascaras, trenzas, y grenas: Un/masking the self while un/braiding latina stories and legal discourse. Chicano Latino Law Review, 15(1), 1.