Race X Identity
February 3, 2020
As we delved into the issue of Identity, we got an influx of ideas, ranging from sexual identity to politics. It became apparent later in the planning that our staff was lacking a vastly important piece of identity; we have articles on gender, antisemitism, and intelligence, but we lacked any articles on race.
Race can be an uncomfortable topic for most of us, but that’s exactly the reason we should talk about it. No change comes from comfort. We could have published another white opinion on the White bubble of Marin. We could have written how that affects our identity, but that just feels depressingly repetitive.
We decided to reach out beyond ourselves to students of color in the school, and ask a few to write in. What follows is their experiences with race and how it relates to their identity, as both people and as students of Drake High.
Janet Ramirez- Race X Identity
Since I was little, I have been constantly reminded by my parents to always be proud of my Latina roots. They made it their mission to make Spanish my first language; up until now, it [has] been the only language spoken at home. Traveling annually to Mexico since a very young age has also helped keep me close to my roots, contributing to my pride in being Latina. Visiting Mexico meant celebrating traditions, practicing the language, and immersing myself in the wonderful culture alongside friends and family.
Today I can happily say that I’m extremely grateful to have grown up Latina, to call Spanish my first language, to travel to Mexico, to immerse myself in my culture and build so many more connections because of it.
Coming to Drake, a primarily white school, changed things for me. Upon my arrival at high school, I noticed that I was no longer friends with students of color. The kids who I had grown up with had gone to Tam High School instead, only because it happened to be the feeder high school of Bolinas district.
Until freshman year, I hadn’t thought of my race as something that made me very different. It was my first time noticing just how white Marin actually is, which was an immense shift in perspective for me. I went from forming part of the same 15 student class in the tiny town of Bolinas to joining a school of 1,076 students within the new town of San Anselmo.
This made the very beginning of freshman year feel almost empty; farther away from my roots and the people I had grown up with, I aimlessly walked the halls surrounded by a sense of unfamiliarity on my first day, intimidated by the fact that I didn’t know the campus or the people. I felt out of place- this was a community much different than what I had been accustomed to.
I gradually adapted to my new environment, as I thought back to the fact that I was still me, and I was still accepted here. I reminded myself of what my parents had always encouraged me to do; embrace the fact that I come from a different background, and not have that intimidate me. Ever since, I’ve felt much more comfortable being here and being able to represent the seemingly smaller percentage of students of color here.
By simply putting more effort into stepping out of the bubble I had lived in all along, while taking pride in my identity/background, I began to meet new people. Today, I can honestly say I’ve been very happy to be granted the opportunity to form a part of the welcoming community that is Drake.
What would happen if I speak up?
I often wonder this when I’m walking through a neighborhood with other people and I hear a demeaning comment about Latino workers. When a rap song comes on and someone drops the N-word. Or someone just drops the N-word. When people impersonate different cultures with belittling accents. When someone pulls their eyes back to mock Asian features. Or when I’m walking down the hallway, walking into class, walking by and they don’t realize I can hear them, or when I’m right next to them and they very well know it.
What would happen if I speak up? Would they feel ashamed? It would definitely kill the mood. Would they be defensive, deflective, or justify themselves as harmless? Would they discredit me because my skin color obliges me to say something? Will they feel like they have to act in a different way around me moving forward?
These thoughts cross my mind in a flurry and are gone as quickly as they came. The fear of saying something pitted in my throat overcomes me. The voice in my head tells me it’s pointless, you will only cause discomfort and you won’t actually change their behavior. And, of course, there is no one else around to back me up.
For years, I have been a bystander to the dominant culture of whiteness that deeply affects students of color. Our community practices a terrifying form of whiteness that allows privilege to be carried out, inequity to be ignored and ignorance to be pardoned on the basis of greater believed ideologies. In my experience, these ideologies, which embody progressivism and equality, act as a comfortable blanket that allows people to ignore their privilege. It has even allowed kids to be overtly racist under the inalienable truth that they are not racist.
That is why they have the courage to make degrading remarks about people of color when I am present. And that is why I don’t have the courage to say anything back. Correction: didn’t.
As a young person of color, I have had to accept that most people are a product of the culture they have grown up in. And that is why it is also important to note that most people don’t have malintent. Often times, people say things without even recognizing their racial undertones. Regularly, if I ask someone what they mean by a certain phrase, they won’t even have a clear answer.
And it is this realization that has driven me to speak up. The realization that a lot of students are unaware of the culture they are contributing to. That when you are swimming in your culture, it can make you blind to its effect on others. The realization that my voice along with many others, might just pop the bubble, or a bubble. And that interrupting a dominant culture, which marginalizes almost half of the people in our country, starts with everyday action.