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Learning Something about myself

by Gaby Ruiz about a year ago in controversies

What it truly means when you don't see race

Learning Something about myself
Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

"But I don't see race, I wasn't raise too."

How many of you have ever heard this statement uttered while someone tries to explain why they couldn't possibly be racist? I have heard it too many times to count, I even dated someone who would tell me this daily as a way to remind me that even though they were a White Straight Male, they couldn't possibly have any racial bias because they were dating me. A Puerto Rican-Cuban. It's a fact they would bring up any chance they got. I wasn't just me, I was their ethnic girlfriend, and they didn't think much of it because they were taught not to see race or color growing up.

The statement seems a bit bias though. At one point I was convinced I was brought up the same way. I grew up in Southern California, up the street from Compton and in the depths of Downtown San Bernardino. Being around a lush of People of Color was the norm. In fact I had never really been around Asian, Indian, or Middle Eastern people until I moved to Plano Texas in 5th grade. At which I never treated my friends any differently than I would want to be treated because they were simply my friends and I would accept both good and bad for them. To me that's what it meant to not see race.

By the time I was a freshman in High School my family moved up to Washington State, where again race was something I had to be aware of when interacting with people. It took on a new form and just doing what I was doing wasn't enough for some people anymore. More so when I was probably the only Latina they had ever encountered.

One of my close friends asked me during this time why I thought I didn't see race or color when it came to interacting with people. Or why I felt the need to speak out about race when it was in a bad light. And I didn't have an answer. I mean to be fair I was 16 and the last thing I wanted to bother me was Race when I was more concerned on how much practice time I needed to put in for an upcoming track meet.

It took a bit of time before I could answer that question but when I finally came to terms with it I wasn't that happy with my answer. You see I thought by refusing to acknowledge race when it came to interacting with people I was keeping everyone equal. Growing up my parents always taught me and my siblings that we should be able to think and act for ourselves and back that up.

A good example is of this is my mom taking me and my siblings to church every Sunday and all but drilling into our heads that just because we were going didn't mean we were actually Christians. It's a mantra that we all knew and would even point out to our teachers and friends in Church. Just because you were there didn't mean you had to believe in any of it.

But it was the same when it came to race. Just because you have a lot of People of Color for friends, doesn't mean you can't be racist. We were taught to see the person for who they were. To me that meant not seeing what their race or culture was until the very end. For my Sister that was not seeing race right away but bringing it up at some point. For my brother it was the first thing to bring up and everything else came afterwards.

I realize that me "not seeing race" was actually pretty racist and why it was harder for me to be friends with people of color than it was for me to be friends with those who were white. And why when race was brought up with those white friends I was a bit aggressive trying to defend something that didn't quiet understand in my eyes.

I was brought to this realization recently when a friend from Middle School in Texas wrote a post about how she had neglected to embrace her African American part of her and the struggles that gave her growing up. It was in this moment that I didn't even realize she was half Black. Like no idea that the reason she was obsessed with straightening her hair and always hinting and suggesting that I did the same to hide my curls. I honestly thought she was just obsessed with styling hair and would answer her pleas to me as it was just a waste of time to do everyday. I had no idea it was because she was uncomfortable in her own skin due to her race. And since I never brought it up or questioned it I was the perfect person for her to be around and encourage that behavior.

That seems a bit nice, but the reality is it was really toxic. I wouldn't even bring up being Latina around my friends because I didn't want it to define who I was. Because of this I added to the narrative with a lot of my friends that denying a part of yourself, especially the part you didn't like, was the way to go. Which resulted with a lot of my friends having issues growing up.

Now I'm not saying I'm the reason they internally hated themselves, but I did add to it. Instead of telling my friend the reason I didn't want to hide my curls was because I was proud to be Latina, I said that it was a waste of time and a chore to constantly straighten my hair. If a friend voiced something about themselves they didn't like I was almost always the first to nonchalantly back them up on that by not talking about it. We had friends that would, and very quickly they were shunned out of the group because of it.

If you point out what we didn't want to talk about, it was best to just leave. I learned that lesson growing up, time and time again. When race was the topic me and my friends would state as a mantra that "we didn't see race."

I found that is so toxic. Just because I was refusing to see race didn't mean it wasn't there. I had a friend growing up that would tell me that statement meant that I was just refusing to see certain people. And how true that was, but at the time it was a statement that would never sit right with me. And like those who state they aren't racist I would do whatever I needed to prove how wrong that was. In my mind I did see everyone, and I was in the right because I wouldn't define someone by their race. I would double down so much on this just to prove it was wrong.

Then when I fully started thinking about it I realized the only people saying that phrase were my white friends who always had a problem with racial topics. It was never something I ever heard from my community or even my people of color friends. In fact the person who brought it up to me was my brother. One day we got into a discussion about race and I said that phrase and without missing a beat my brother countered it with "you know only white people think and say that right?"

That stopped me in my tracks, because it couldn't be true could it? Was it something only white people said? It brought me back to my Ex-Boyfriend again since I heard it more than normal while with him. Now that I'm dating a Person of Color I hardly ever hear that statement, in fact the opposite happens. My current boyfriend with talk about race like he was talking about the weather. Regardless in what light, both the good and the bad because in his mind talk of race should be normalized. It's the same way my brother thinks and why they get along so well.

But it's meant I've had to retrain my brain. I need to start seeing race for what it is, just another part of life that sadly is constantly seen as a bad things. It's up there with talking about your salary with co-workers, it can happen but it's frowned upon because it has the potential to cause problems. I learned this why at my last job, where there was only 1 white person working in our entire office.

It's a struggle but now I'm countering that statement with "then you're racist." And let me tell you, the responses have not been that great. But they aren't suppose to be if they are calling out the issue.

If you made it this far, thanks you really didn't have to. This was a bit of a rant but something I felt I needed to write and hopefully through the ramblings it gets people to think some.


Gaby Ruiz

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