Light­skin for Be­gin­ners


1. Calm the fuck down. You don’t have to be all whis­per­scream­ing, “I know I have white-pass­ing priv­i­lege so, I’m just so grate­ful, thanks for let­ting me be here!!!!!!” at the go-round at POC yoga. It’s ok. You can just say you’re glad there is POC yoga. You are.

2. Ev­ery­one knows what you look like (ex­cept do they) (ex­cept the con­tainer changes it) (like the slope of a cornea shift­ing) (like the words folks know and use) (like how they know how to see) (like shift­ing light and dark) (like how there is no one eye that sees) (ex­cept some­times you get lighter with age) (ex­cept some­times you get darker when you move away from the P.N.W. to some­place with sun) (ex­cept in Queens/Cali you are just another light­skin fag­got) (another half-breed in Thun­der Bay) (they’ve seen you be­fore) (both whites and us) (they know you) (when they don’t know you some­times it’s priv­i­lege and some­times it’s killing) and it won’t kill you to ac­knowl­edge it (yes it’s com­pli­cated) (you don’t have to apol­o­gize) (apol­ogy for ex­ist­ing is not the same thing as ac­count­abil­ity for the weird-ass place you in­habit) (you didn’t cause colo­nial rape or your par­ents or the weird­ness of ge­net­ics) (it will take you a while to fig­ure this out) (like ev­ery day) (like the rest of your life). Many Sri Lankans don’t trip when they meet me because they’ve met some ver­sion of me be­fore—there is a mad range of skin tones on the is­land and I look like some cousin they’ve seen at some point. How­ever, I don’t LOSE MY EN­TIRE COM­PLEX LIMINAL-ASS IDEN­TITY if I ac­knowl­edge that IT IS POS­SI­BLE SOME­ONE MIGHT HAVE THOUGHT I WAS A WHITE JEW, POR­TUGUESE OR A LIGHTSKINNED PUERTO RI­CAN AND, IN ANY CASE, NOT SRI LANKAN, AT SOME POINT. Because that is true.

3. Pass­ing is dif­fer­ent than be­ing read as: the first is you are try­ing to, the sec­ond is some­one is see­ing you as what you are not, what you don’t want to. You are not try­ing to be the en­emy, that is not your goal or your love.

4. Your dark-skinned and non-mixed-with-white friends don’t al­ways want to hear it—“it” be­ing the weird mo­ments of be­ing in the air­port and the gaze shifts, which are you, ter­ror­ist or nice girl, be­ing asked what you are for the mil­lionth time, hav­ing some white­boy at work say there’s no POC in the of­fice. They are Black or brown all the time. That is a dif­fer­ent life, they might not want to hear about how you want it.

5. Of course, you can maybe be pass­ing for/read as and then at any mo­ment it falls to shit and then you’re just another spic/tow­el­head/n-word/prairie n-word and your life is in dan­ger.

6. Know­ing how to hang and crack a joke will go a lot fur­ther than con­stantly hav­ing a ner­vous break­down about your iden­tity. Us­ing your lightskinned ass priv­i­lege to shoplift, not shame spi­ral.

7. Don’t date dark-skinned peo­ple to get cred or in­ject their genomes into your fu­ture baby. You think you’re fix­ing his­tory but you’re just mak­ing more scars.

8. Dat­ing white peo­ple will also not be a so­lu­tion. You def­i­nitely will be the POC in the cou­ple. Ex­cept for the times they will “for­get”—all of them. They want it both ways and will get nei­ther. Maybe they do love you. How do they know to love you. It’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be tragic. It might be im­pos­si­ble to write about with­out play­ing into ev­ery love sees not colour you don’t even believe in.

9. Talk about the dam­age, the white par­ent who ironed your hair ’til it siz­zles blood or how it was grow­ing up with racists who are re­lated to you. How if you are in a multi-gen­er­a­tional lightskinned fam­ily some or all of your fam­ily might be colourstruck ass­holes, killers who have killed y/our own.

10. Some of us are wealthy, some of us are broke. There’s plenty of white mom light folks who grew up in the projects. If you’re some rich Con­necti­cut mixie, please do not be as­sum­ing that your ex­pe­ri­ence is the mixed ex­pe­ri­ence.

11. These things will help you calm the fuck down: look for the role mod­els, the light­skins who came be­fore us, fought on the right side of his­tory. Look for the Jean Arasanayagams and Kath­leen Cleavers, the Cher­ríe Mor­a­gas and Joanne Arnotts, the dudes who robbed the bank in The Spook Who Sat by the Door and Miklo Var­gas be­com­ing the head of La Onda in Blood In Blood Out. Y/our mir­ror.

12. What legacy do you want to leave, what an­ces­tor are you be­com­ing.

13. When/if you move to a ma­jor­ity Black or brown city or coun­try, the ref­er­ence point bends away from white­ness and you might be not so damn white-pass­ing af­ter all. Try it out. Change the frame, the stakes, the mir­ror. Al­ter the eye, your own peo­ple, your ref­er­ence point.

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