How skin color affects perceptions

 

Race is a silly thing.

Determining someone’s worth and ascribing characteristics based off the color of their skin is as superficial as figuring out who someone is based off their belly button type.

Oh, you’re an outie? We can’t be friends.

Despite the fact that race is a social construct, and how ridiculous it may seem (especially for people of color) to determine who someone is based off the color of their skin, we cannot pretend that race isn’t a significant part of identity.

This is especially true if you are white.

Recent consumer genetic tests such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe offer the opportunity to learn more about your genetic heritage.

If you are white, it is an opportunity to expand an understanding of yourself as something more culturally complex than white.

In a country where whiteness is unceremoniously lumped together, where different white ethnicities are not usually differentiated, consumer genetic tests offer a unique opportunity.

However, though I believe that exploring personal identity and family heritage is important, it is important to remember that it does not change your race.

In the United States, in which many white people trace their European ancestry to several generations in the past, it would seem that, in general, being part of the white race is more important than your specific ethnicity.

First, it is important to distinguish the difference between race and ethnicity. Race is phenotypic.

It is based off the way that you look, and one can technically only have one phenotypic race (this includes the continually growing category of “mixed race”).

Meanwhile, you can have more than one ethnicity, as it refers to social and cultural groups that you belong to.

Personally, my mom has Swiss and British ancestors. My dad, born in Mexico, has Lebanese and Native Mexican ancestry.

But because I have brown skin, to others I am brown before I am anything else.

According to the manager that suspiciously followed my brothers and I to the fitting room as we were shopping for our first suits, before I am anything I am what I look like.

The way that I look impacts the way that I am treated, and the way that I am treated impacts the way I see myself.

For this, I say that I am brown before I say that I am Mexican-American, the importance that my color, my race, has for others has directly made it important to me.

This is the same if you are white, the color of your skin and physical features comes before any explanation about your ancestry.

Though the idea of race is silly, the way that is has played out in American history and our present context is not.

Racial microaggressions, racial discrimination in housing, racial segregation, racial violence and others that result in judging people based off phenotype have mainly benefited white people.

French or Irish heritage does not change the color of your skin. Nothing can. So even if you identify strongly with Nordic or Irish heritage, or your Ancestry.com search says that you are .09 percent Cherokee, remember that you will be judged by what people see.

At SPU, a university in a country with a historical preference for white skin, whether you are Latino or Caucasian, it is a privilege to look white.

This is not to say that your whiteness should define you. I don’t want to be judged by the color of my skin — I don’t think anyone does.

But race as an institution has existed for my entire lifetime and for many generations prior.

I worry that too often white people want to move on from race and believe that whiteness or brownness shouldn’t be defining.

Konner Hancock, in an Oct. 31 response to an article I had written earlier in the month titled “White Culture at Seattle Pacific” claimed that “The color of an individual’s skin should mean nothing except as statistical data or for biological sentiment.”

While I agree that skin color shouldn’t mean anything at all, I do not believe that we can pretend that race has a major impact on the way that we are seen and the way that we formulate our identity.

As a brown person, my race is an integral part of who I am. By being treated as exotic looking, by being asked “What are you?” and, more positively, being welcomed by other brown people, race has been made to be important.

It is the same if you are white.

We cannot ignore the privilege of merely looking white, regardless of ethnicity and ancestry, we can’t pretend race is nothing more than data.

Leave a Reply