As white-passing people of color, we have our own set of struggles.
We have to hear all the horrible, racist things that our white friends (and sometimes even our not-white friends) say about people of color that they wouldn’t dare say if we were visible poc. And because we look white, we are expected to be okay with it. We are expected to understand and sympathize with the “I’m not trying to be racist but…” agenda. Basically, we are expected to support whiteness as an ideal.
When we talk about our identities being anything other than white, our white friends act like we are throwing ourselves an unnecessary pity party. They act like we are so full of white-guilt that we are trying to falsely identify as people of color to get away from it. Or, worse (and more commonly), they act like looking white is some kind of accomplishment, as if you were born inherently better than your visible counter-parts, are fully aware of their inferiority, and are being ridiculous or annoyingly humble by also identifying as a person of color. This experience is similar to when visible poc are seen as “credits to their race”. Except that the white-passing, instead of being seen as being better because they aren’t “lazy”, are seen as better by default. As if being born light-skinned, instead being a product of recessive genes, is evidence that we were meant for better things than our visible parents, siblings, and friends.
And we cannot effectively contest it because, when we do, it is held as evidence of our inborn moral superiority to visible people of color; evidence of our grace and humbleness. Yet we are not as good as white people because we are not actually white. We are still people of color, and, therefore, our words are cooed at benevolently and brushed off, as we cannot posses the wisdom and authority that comes with being an actual white person. We are light-skinned because we are better, but we are not white enough to actually be taken seriously. Our purpose in white people’s lives is not as evidence that racism is idiotic, counter-intuitive, and without any basis in logic, but to reinforce the value of racial hierarchy. And anything we say will be twisted and mangled to support the racist schema of the white people who have been kind enough to let us sit around and act white with them.
A self-aware white-passing person is constantly aware of their unmerited advantages and simultaneously unable to do much to convince the white people around them (and often other people of color as well) that we do not deserve to be on this pedestal. Or, rather, that our visible counter-parts deserve to be on the pedestal equally as much, if not more, than we do. A self-aware white-passing person realizes that when they set off a metal detector and get waved ahead instead of having to go through lengthy and invasive searches, it is because of the value a racist society has arbitrarily placed on pale skin and European features.
And then there is the isolation from visible people of color. Because while we may identify more with them, we still look white. And we are never, ever, unaware of that fact.
As a person of color, I know that I usually prefer to be with other people of color (and some non-delusional white people). So while we can’t blame them for not automatically seeing us as people of color, we also can’t just go over and say “hey I’m a person of color, too” because THAT IS SUCH A WHITE PEOPLE THING TO DO!
I’ve seen a lot of stuff come through my feed, lately, about white-passing people of color trying to equate their struggles with those of visible people of color.
Personally, I don’t understand how any self-respecting poc (visible or white-passing) could do that to another poc. Every time you try do that, you are saying that you face the same discrimination as visible poc. This is just not true.
As white-passing people we have the privilege of letting people think that we’re white to get jobs, grades, respect and to avoid having our words and actions serve as a testament or evidence of our race/ethnicity. Most importantly, we have the ability to sit in a room full of white people and not have all eyes on us. When we are tired of the discrimination, we can get up and leave and be assured that, in a few blocks, at most a few cities, we will be in a place where no one knows that we’re people of color; where we can sit in peace, without being discriminated against because of our skin tone.
This is a white-passing privilege that visible poc do not have.
So, yes, we have our struggles. But they are not remotely the same as those of people who do not have the privilege of passing. Pretending otherwise is hurtful, invalidating, counter productive, and generally fucked-up.
So,please, quit trying to play oppression olympics and acknowledge your privilege like a decent human being!
I think about words a lot. Which, I mean, I’m a blogger and a writer and an editor so that might be stating the obvious. I think about words a lot and, by the nature of my activism, one of the words I think about the most is the word fat.
It’s a great word, in my opinion. It’s not a particularly lovely word – I find very few single-syllable words to be lovely, especially those with the short-a sound and the harshness of that consonant t. (Exceptions all involve th – mouth and thigh being particularly glorious.) No, fat is one of the basics, one of the learning-to-read words. It’s cat and bat and hat and sat and mat and so on. It’s one of those words that is so intrinsic to our English-speaking mouths that we don’t think about it; it just comes chopping out from the space between our front teeth.
Fat is adipose tissue. When a noun is modified by “fat,” an adjective, it’s a descriptor; it signifies that the noun possesses comparatively more adipose tissue than a thinner version of that noun. It’s a word steeped in comparison and contrast. It’s not a binarism – fat and thin do not oppose each other, as much as some folks try to reduce the multiplicity of bodies and body types to such a simple, inaccurate head-to-head (pound-for-pound?) competition. Fat and thin both are part of a spectrum. The center point is not an arbitrary Ideal Body Weight: it’s just one more point.
That’s why I object to “overweight” as a descriptor. Over what weight? The weight other people think I should be even though they have no experience with my body composition beyond looking at me? The weight a BMI chart says I should be? The weight a fashion magazine thinks I should be? The only thing I’m over is all the effort to Other my body.
There are lots of other words people use. Curvy, chubby, stout, voluptuous, zaftig, fluffy, big-boned, thick, and so on. But they don’t really describe my body in a meaningful way when I want to talk about my particular body experience.
Sure, my body is curvy. But that speaks more to the profundity of my ass and the size of my breasts. It doesn’t say a damn thing about my body composition – especially since, really, curvy is a thing women (and other genders) of any weight can be. Curvy has become code for a very specific kind of fat and I am not that kind of fat. It’s not the word for me.
Chubby is, apart from also being a slang term from my youth for an erection, just plain wrong when it comes to scale. (You see what I did there?) If chubby is meant to indicate a certain specific, moderate level of fat, well, am I extra chubby? Extra extra chubby? It’s not a bad word. But it’s not the word for me.
There are a lot of vintage Lane Bryant ads, and ads from other catalogs, that advertise clothing for the stout woman. There is something, I think, very evocative about the word stout. It conjures up, for me, particularly British matrons with flowers on their hats and sensible, thick-heeled pumps. Basically, the Queen of England is stout. It’s awesome. And there’s something very solid about it, something that inspires confidence, I think. But, again, it’s not really an accurate descriptor for me.
Voluptuous and zaftig – they’re both efforts to glamorize bodies of size. Voluptuous might as well be curvy for all it’s a damn euphemism, for all it’s only applied to certain figures. And zaftig, which really is a phenomenal word is just an effort to make it sound better – as though fat in English isn’t good enough. Both voluptuous and zaftig have been applied to me, and I dig them, but I don’t dig them as community-wide descriptors because I don’t think we should be ashamed to speak plainly when it comes to our bodies.
I am not a goddamn Persian cat; I am not fluffy. Seriously, y’all.
Similarly, big-boned has got fuck all to do with my body. I mean, yeah, I have bones. And because bodies vary, in every way imaginable, some people’s bones really are larger and/or heavier than other people’s bones. That is really interesting. But it doesn’t determine how much fat I have. At best, it’s an apologetic excuse for just being larger than everyone (taller, sometimes); at worst, it’s an excuse founded in extreme embarrassment about body size.
Thick is a really interesting term to me. But, uh, yeah, I’m thicker than thick is supposed to be, I think. There’s nuance there with which I’m not entirely familiar – it seems to get applied to a lot of women who aren’t fat at all to me, they just have hips and thighs. Pear-shaped women, if we’re using fruit. Mmmmmmm, fruit.
There are plenty of other words that have been thrown my way over the years. But, for my linguistic energy, fat is still the best thing out there. It’s not a fancy word but I don’t need it to be. It’s one of the first words we learn to read; it’s basic. It’s as basic as “This is my body.” My body is many things. My body is fat.
The objection, of course, is that fat is used as an insult, is used to tear people down. It’s a successful insult because of the cultural perception that fat is bad.
I tell you what, my fat is not bad. It isn’t morally wrong, nor is it poorly behaved. It simply is. I’m not afraid of my fat and so I am not afraid of the word. “You’re fat,” (or, more commonly from trolls, “Your fat”) is a statement of fact, not an insult. Why, yes, yes, I am fat. Isn’t it delightful?
There are friends, generally thin, who cringe when I use the word. They won’t use it. I don’t blame them; they don’t exactly have signs over their heads proclaiming them okay and not being insulting, after all. But I’m going to keep using it, repeating it, saying it all the damn time. I’m going to keep normalizing it. It’s a normal word! It’s fat!
A lovely word? It doesn’t need to be. It’s better than lovely. Let’s use it some more.
An Open Letter to the Fat Girl I Saw at Hot Yoga in New York City
Perhaps I should call you OTHER fat girl at Hot Yoga, as I was there too, easing back into my Fat Down Dog, forward to Fat Plank, then melting and pushing up to Fat Cobra, etc etc, all the way through my big fat hot Vinyasa flow. (This should be a movie—My Big Fat Hot Vinyasa Flow—I would SO go to see that.)
Is it wrong that I am half in love with you? For being fat and at Hot Yoga? For shaving your legs and getting a GOOD pedicure and putting your big ol’ ass into yoga pants ? For unrolling your mat and claiming your space, a rounded duck standing defiantly on one squatty leg among flamingos.
Were you as happy to see me as I was to see you? I think you were. You kept PEEKING at me, under your armpit and between your thighs, when you should have had been looking at your Drishti, only to find I had abandoned MY Drishti and was misaligning my spine to peek at you.
We both tipped over out of tree because of it. But it was okay. We were a secret club of Fat Girls at Hot Yoga. We understood each other.
I miss you, now that I am back home in Georgia. I am ALWAYS the only fat girl at Hot Yoga. I am sure it is exactly the same for you—-You might think there would be more of us fat girls here in Quasi-Rural Georgia than in New York City.
Well, okay. There are, actually, but I am the only one in CLASS. We sometimes have one girl who THINKS she is another Fat Girl at Hot Yoga. She is not, God bless her. She is only mentally ill. At my Hot Yoga here, all the regulars are very beautiful and sleek, like otter puppies.
Yoga people. Honestly. They are long and loopy and bendable and glorious. I wish I was one, but I froth and churn and fail at cleanses.
They seem so at peace with their physicalness, living inside bodies that look like loops of strong ribbon. Meanwhile, I am at war. I am at war with my body.
Oh Fat Girl at Hot Yoga in New York City, are you at war with yours, too? Has it let you down? Are you angry with it? I am. Righteously furious, actually.
This stupid body has failed me in so many ways these last two years. It has been endlessly sick. It has required surgery and bed rest and vicious medication that got me well, but made me feel sicker.
I AM VERY ANGRY WITH IT for being sick, for getting fat, for not doing what I SAY.
But I am nice to it anyway, three times a week, at Hot Yoga.
Fat Girl, I saw you in New York, and I thought, GOOD FOR YOU. You are trying to find a way to be stronger, to live in yourself, to like your body enough to give it that seventy-five minutes of movement and acceptance. To just take care of the damn thing, even if you ARE mad at it. To treat it like an exasperating, ugly, ill-tempered little child—one you secretly adore.
At the start? Every time? I set my intention and it is this: For the next 75 minutes, don’t look around, don’t compare, don’t list all the ways you are not good enough to be here, and don’t hate yourself. Just Breathe. Just Breathe. Just Breathe. Just be in your body and remember how good a place it is to be, really.
For the first half of class, I remind myself that this body is not some shabby rental. It is home. No matter how mad I am, it is home.
By the second half, I always come to understand that it is more than home. It is more than where I live.
It is me.
I am it.
I remember my husband likes it. A lot. I remember it twice performed a function that was nothing short of miraculous, growing two exceptional babies entirely from scratch. My brain is a piece of it, and my brain is where the stories come from.
This is what I get from Hot Yoga, Fat Girl. I am not sure what you get. I hope the same thing. I wish ALL the Fat Girls would come to Hot Yoga and get this, get these minutes where we forget —if only for a little while— that our value as people doesn’t go down when our pants sizes go up.
And also? Selfishly? I DO wish at least one more would come, so I would have someone to peek at under my armpit, to give that little tip of the chin, that little nod.
Fat Girl at Hot Yoga Solidarity, baby. We aren’t perfect, but we are HERE, busting out of our yoga pants, ducks among flamingos, trying to take care of ourselves.
You are beautiful. Not always and not to everyone, but we are all beautiful and deserving of love.
You do not have justify your body to anyone. Not to your family, your friends, your doctor, your partners. It is your body. No one else’s.
You are allowed to take up space. Use the world around you to your advantage. Be present in the world in as much space as you need to feel comfortable and safe.
You are more than your body. You have emotional, spiritual, and mental worth. People might see your body first, but everything else about you matters just as much.
You are allowed to change your body if you want to. You can gain or lose weight if it is your choice to do so. No one should shame you for either choice. You are also allowed to keep your body exactly the way it is right now, in this moment.
You are allowed to be angry over fatphobia. You do not have to sit quietly and let those around you make you feel bad for your size. You can be angry, resentful, hurt, sad. You can speak out against fatphobia. You can reject diet and weight loss talk if you do not want to hear it.
You can use the word fat. If you feel fat, you can use the word fat. You can reclaim it as a positive. You can use fat as a descriptor. No one can tell you that you are too small to use it. If it is part of who you are, do what’s best for you.
You can love other fat people. You can make fat and fat ally communities. You can surround yourself with positive forces. You can make fat love. You can fat love yourself.
You can wear what you want. Crop tops and short shorts. Mumus. Tutus and ties. It is up to you. Don’t let societal pressures like ‘flattering’ dictate your outfits.
You can be fat. That is good. That is ok. That is a celebration.