Monday, April 29, 2013

Skin and Color and Social Media

When I first moved to Mexico, my Spanish was not perfect. It isn't perfect now, I still make some grammatical errors every now and again when I write. But then again, I know plenty of native speakers of English and Spanish that don't speak perfectly. But when I tell people that I am not originally from Mexico, they act surprised or ask if one of my parents is Mexican. And yes, my mother is Mexican. I identify myself as Latina with Eastern European heritage and have never liked the term "white". It bothers me when people base opinions based on skin color. But it happens to me all the time, and I know I have formed opinions about others based on their skin color and how they look.

Recently I had a series of very heated exchanges on Facebook with some family members and their extended family members. It had a lot going on: from violence, to forgiveness, to religion, to feminism, to respecting other people's opinions, these exchanges got so heated that several of us decided to "sever" Facebook ties. I am very aware that relationships on Facebook are not real relationships in the sense that they are a part of social media. Social media is great circulating information, connecting people who might otherwise never get the chance to exchange dialogue but it is also a great place to get your feelings hurt by people you've met once or might not even know at all. It is also a great place to misinterpret and misunderstand other people's issues and daily lives. Facebook users can take things really personally or not personally at all.

But back to skin and color. My skin color has always been something other people take issue with and wanting to please others, I have worried about how "latina" or "unlatina" I look for years. Once in college, a woman of color who was supposed to be helping me get support for a class I was struggling with told me that since I was white I wouldn't have to go to graduate school to get a good job. That was my introduction to race and academics. Here in Mexico, I have often seen ESL teachers with blue eyes and blonde hair, who "look the part" of a foreigner, get promoted to coordinators or directors, while often better qualified teachers of color (sometimes Mexican) get passed over because they don't look the part. 

In my extended Mexican family children with light skin and fair hair are fawned over and are told how "guap@s" they are with their "ojos de color" (colored eyes, which means their eyes aren't brown.) As the mother this irks me, children with brown eyes are gorgeous and deserve fawning over as much as kids with blue or green eyes do. My own grandmother was notoriously racist. When a German born, ethnically Ashanti-Ghanaian friend told me that my grandmother made him feel uncomfortable and asked if she ever made racist remarks,  I felt so embarrassed and sad. If my grandmother had emigrated to the USA like one of her sisters did, would she have realized her own ignorance and hate went against those religious values she spent so much time telling us about? 

I wish this topics didn't leave me with more questions than answers. But after these past few weeks of socal media drama, I am so glad that I do question. I have tested my thesis once again:  I am here to learn, my learning is the answer to my reason for being. In this talk at a TEDx event, Jyoti Gupta talks about skin color or colorism. Her talk goes much deeper into this topic. And don't think because you are "light skinned" this doesn't impact you, because it does. It impacts us all.

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