I don’t know what it is like to fear for my life when in public.
I don’t know what it is like to fear the cops pinning me down until I draw my last breath.
I don’t know what it is like to be afraid to go for a run and never come back home to my children.
I don’t know what it is like to fear being shot when I am stopped for a traffic violation by those who took an oath to protect and serve.
I don’t know what it is like to be full-on discriminated against.
As a fair-skinned Latina, people always assume I am American.
Growing up in Venezuela, I was a little blonde seven-year-old child with light eyes and freckled, rosy cheeks. The other kids would get close to my shy face, softly pet or pinch my cheek, and merrily call me “Gringa.”
As if it was the sweetest, most suiting compliment they could ever give another human being.
Once we moved to the United States, a day of shopping in the heavily Latin town of Hialeah did not go by without someone speaking Spanish around me. They spoke as if I couldn’t understand, asking someone to translate for me, or rolling their eyes because I would not understand what they were saying. I could be speaking Spanish straight to their face, and they would still say, “I don’t speak English” with a heavy accent.
As I grew up, people would ask me where I was from only to interpret my poor pronunciation of Venezuela as Minnesota. I spent years correcting many who gathered through my looks that I was from the Midwest.
Then in NYC, where I briefly went to college, I would get hooted at “white girl, you are in the wrong neighborhood!” as I carried my groceries home to a shared basement apartment in Brooklyn.
One unsuspecting night, I was speed walking to the train station, minding my own business. I had my hands in my pockets and head tilted down, trying to avoid the icy water droplets from stinging my face. Then, a young teenage girl forcefully swung her arm toward me, firmly gripping a large convenience store cup, splashing the contents all over my coat and jeans.
All non-consequential judgments. But a weird lesson and insight as to how I am viewed. What the world interprets me to be, and what my acceptance, at first sight, will be judged on.
My birth-given name, Karen, has become the definition of an entitled, racist, white woman with privilege, whose sole focus is ruining someone’s day.
And boy, this sets my soul on fire—it stands for everything that enrages me, everything I strive not to be, and everything I never want to be associated with.
I might be from poor beginnings, a minority, and get discriminated against once the truth of my origins come out, but I am privileged.
I am privileged to not have to fear for my life when I go for a run.
I am privileged to not have to fear for my life when a cop stops me at a light.
I am privileged not to have to fear for my life because of the color of my skin.
I may never understand what it is like, but I hold space for those who do.
Watch an anti-racism hour with Jane Elliott talking with Waylon Lewis of Elephant here.