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.