My ancestry manifests in me as the aftermath of an ongoing battle. My body is the convergence of bloodlines that span continents. My heritage is layered, textured with palimpsest and patina. I am dual, simultaneous. I encompass the oppressor and oppressed, the privileged and the disenfranchised. I am mixed.
Specifically, I am mixed Filipinx and white.
This identity is a fraught one. Neither identity takes away from the other, but they inform each other. One overshadows the other in certain crucial situations depending on who is looking at me, divesting me of agency.
Race matters. Colorblindness is white privilege, and it’s oppressive coming from white Westerners. The combination of white and non-white creates… what? How can we navigate an identity in flux, which is sometimes seen as crucially non-Black in an anti-Black society, sometimes objectified while masked as beneficial, and sometimes viewed as crucially non-white?
Disparate, dichotomous, and dialectical in many important ways, my identities clash and coexist in every inch of my DNA, every bit of me woven with both.
Navigating my Filipinx and European Jewish identities
I am racialized as non-white in many settings. My family is Philippine. I was raised with my Philippine mother, brought up with Tambo morality and faith. Notably, I was raised as the daughter of a Philippine immigrant, my mother learning this country almost simultaneously as I grew into it. I routinely experience anti-Asian racism, exoticization, fetishization, and the suffering that comes from the stereotype of the “model minority.”
I am also racialized as white in many settings. My family is European and white Jewish. (There are non-white Jewish experiences, but my ancestry does not include them.) I was raised with a father who has ties to the Holocaust, Jewish ghettoes and diaspora, and Depression-era Jewish morality and culture. I was raised as the daughter of a Jewish immigrant family, my father born here but family fresh from the homeland, confronting alienation and violent antisemitic discrimination. At the same time, I routinely experience white-passing privilege in certain situations.
I am neither. I don’t speak Tagalog fluently. And I don’t speak Hebrew or Yiddish.
The contradictions of my maternal and paternal lineages
My mother’s side of the family is Catholic, often militantly so. I respect their right to practice but not the values they expect me to keep because of it, especially those which invalidate my queer identity.
My father’s side of the family is much smaller, whereas my mother is the youngest of seven, so my Philippine side tallies in the hundreds. So though I am often white-passing in America, I was raised more prevalently with the Philippine side of my heritage. Also, I am white and Jewish, but our ancestry does not overlap with the white bloodshed that earned privilege in this landscape.
My mother’s culture, being the “more foreign” in this country, took much more work to maintain (and mattered much more to her as she worked to navigate this country). Therefore, it was much more dominant in my childhood than my white and Jewish culture ever manifested through my liberal father. But my father’s cultural background is still flattened into “white” and considered far more the norm.
Where is home?
I look like an outsider when I stand next to either side of my family. I am also the product of a cultural cliché: my white Jewish father is much older than my Filipina mother, and that dynamic is often a dangerous white supremacist power struggle. This wasn’t the case in my family (mostly), but it matters that I was born of this dynamic. I also look like neither of my parents.
To be mixed white and POC is to feel, in many ways, homeless. I have no true tether. I do not share many mindsets or experiences with white people, and yet I am often not recognized as kin by Filipinx. And as a queer person, I face alienation from all sides. I confront both racism and estrangement. My experiences are unlike either of my parents, unlike anyone from either side of my family.
To be mixed white and POC is to feel like the site of a battlefield sometimes. I look in the mirror and see a body more privileged in this country than perhaps any of my maternal relatives, and also more disenfranchised than perhaps any of my paternal relatives. While many in the Philippines and diasporic Philippine communities fetishize white skin, my Philippine family often idealizes when I work to look “more Filipinx,” so I remind them, understandably, less of the enemy.
I am often racialized as POC. Often my experiences echo with those of my immigrant mother, my Pacific Island ancestry. I have the capacity to feel at home within the islands – and yet the language still sits like a visitor on my tongue. The culture also rejects my sexuality and so much of how I choose to experience my life, my love, how I choose to express my gender.
I want to belong. I want to belong. But I just can’t. It doesn’t fit. I am the in-between.
What it means to “pass” as white
In certain situations, I pass as white. Because my white side comes from my father, I have a white-passing last name. Often, white people will think there’s “something foreign” about me, but then they see it as a benefit against my passably white features.
This is racism, colorism, and exoticization. Darker skin and “non-white” features would render me less attractive by white supremacist standards. In situations where my features “pass,” I am shielded from confronting outright racism and am afforded greater safety. The same features that other me in my actual homeland “reward” me among my oppressors.
Exoticization is a manifestation of white supremacy in which another culture is portrayed as foreign but domesticable, bizarre but seductive, seductive in its bizarreness, making the viewer or consumer more “interesting” or “worldly” for consuming “it”. At the same time, it makes the subject being exoticized into an object. As a mixed white and non-Black person, I’ve been complimented for having enough “other” in me for white men to want to fuck, yet enough paleness to still be found “respectable”. And I’ve been told to appreciate it.
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In certain situations, I pass as white, and if not, I am racialized as light-skinned Asian or Latinx. This means I experience white-passing privilege and light-skinned privilege. Being white, Jewish, Filipinx, Pacific Islander, and Asian means I can claim the POC identity – but I am crucially non-Black. Those of us who are mixed with white and who are non-Black must recognize that it’s a privilege to not have to confront anti-Blackness, and that not all POC experiences can ever be blanketed together.
However, it is still important to recognize that when we “pass,” despite the privileges we experience, we are confronting white supremacy and colorism. We as mixed white/POC individuals already often face alienation from our POC heritage. We already experience existing in the in-between, the non-belonging.
Living in the in-between
My history is made up of multitudes.
My history is dialectical: white power, white privilege, establishment/native, Islander, immigrant. I am the liminal space in between. This is loneliness, this is pain, this is possibility, this is kinetic energy. I situationally “pass” as white – I am thus living proof of white supremacy.
When I am racialized as white, I experience privileges I don’t recognize when I’m racialized as who I actually am. I am forced to reject, ignore, or be complicit in the rejection of a critical part of myself in order to maybe be treated as a human, and that is a clear example of how colorism, racism, and white supremacy manifest.
Both sides of my family have told me it’s a gift, that I must recognize the profitability of whiteness. I do recognize it – that I benefit from a system that is fundamentally, disgustingly flawed. Also, we shouldn’t have to reject the hard-won parts of ourselves, the parts from which we already experience distance – but it is a privilege that we can. This privilege helps highlight the extent to which we must combat racism, colorism, and anti-Blackness.
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We mixed white/POC who pass as white have a responsibility to elevate the voices of those darker skinned, those who do not experience our privileges. We who know firsthand the importance and humanity of POC cultures, who still experience the trauma of racism and white supremacy – we are listened to more than our peers and our forebears, and this is a curse for all, but we must work to help break it.
We must use our voices to draw attention to the inhumanity of white supremacy – because we both suffer and benefit from it.
We mixed white/POC who pass as white are valid. We are unique, each of us. If you share this experience, embrace your identity, however best suits you. We contain multitudes. We are tangled, layered creatures.
Your white-passing privilege is unmistakable, and you must recognize what you don’t have to confront. Your POC identity is also valid, and your connection to your heritage is authentic, and important.
We are not things.
We are not toys, experiments, or curiosities.
We are the sharp, clear truth of humanity.
We are simultaneity.
Use it to break down more walls. Use it to confront hypocrisy, to defy hatred. You are made up of disparate parts that, if you live with consciousness, may often be at war within you. You can work to create harmony between them.
We can, at once, recognize and confront our privileges, and celebrate our heritage.
[Feature Image by Flavio: Photo of a person with long brown curly hair and tan skin. They are sitting outside with sunglasses on as they gaze into the distance. They are wearing a black and white polka dot sleeveless top.]