12 June 2008

Apparently, I'm a Faux-Minority

Over-sensitive white folks, be warned:  I am in no way trying to relate to being a minority in the U.S.  Read before judging.  Tranquilla!  But by all means, judge if you see fit.   --K

Never before have I been in the minority, at least not looks-wise.  It's an entirely new experience that I am still analyzing and over-analyzing.  Being a blonde in America del Sur is enlightening, to say the least.  In the interest of fairness, I should note that I am a foreign-tourist minority, and I am not living in a country where my kind have been routinely persecuted and oppressed.  My ancestors weren't ever in slavery, and I haven't missed opportunities because of my race/nationality.  Quite the opposite in fact:  I am immediately thought of as semi-elite because of my "very American" look.  

[A quick note on that:  I seem to be dumb enough to think that Americans are not a homogenous people.  I thought that we (uh, white Americans, that is) don't have an identifiable look.  WRONG.  Chileans can pick out an American in 2 seconds...even the Americans with more "latino" coloring.  I'm still trying to figure out what our common look is, but the important part is that we white folk are apparently homogenous.  Intriguing.]

My life here is surrounded in stares:  people staring at me as I leave the house, people starting at me on the metro/micro bus, people starting at me in restaurants, etc.  Maybe I'm just hyper-sensitive (entirely possible), or maybe Chileans just don't think that staring is rude (but smiling at someone on the street is?!).  I've almost gotten used to the staring, but I almost lost it two days ago.  As I was waiting to cross the street, a man was so blatantly staring at me and giving me the once over that I almost yelled "Stare harder, jerk! Yes I'm rubia!" I decided this was not a good representation of my nice-little-girl upbringing, so I refrained.  Not to mention, the man was dressed in lawyer-ish clothes and he could work at my firm.  Once a law student, always a law student...even 5000 miles away from home.

The most difficult and different feeling is looking around any given area--bus stop, museum, restaurant, etc.--and realizing that NO ONE ELSE looks like you.  Given that, in the States, I am an average-sized, average-looking white woman, I have never before had this experience.  It's not necessarily a negative feeling, just...incredibly isolating.  And the stares aren't malicious or hateful, but more curious.  Why are you on my metro train, gringrita?  My sister said it best:  It's like when black folks visit Huntingburg.  It's just plain odd to see an apple in a bowl of oranges.  Disappointing but true.  People love to stare at something  different, simply because it's different.    

So while I've gotten a small taste of minority-hood, I can't forget the fact that I'm a privileged "minority."  I'm visiting this country because my skin tone, in all hemispheres, has allowed me the good fortune to go to college, go to graduate school, and earn enough money to travel.  I'm a minority because of my privilege.  I've made myself into a "minority."  Nothing gives me the right to feel sorry for myself, and I don't.  If anything, I have a perpetual reminder of my ridiculously good fortune on this planet, and also a reminder that I have that good fortune because of the persecution of others, both on this continent and in North America.

 Here's to being a faux-minority in the forgotten part of America.  It's good medicine for this gringa.

1 comment:

LucieLu said...

Are you calling me oversensitive?!!!??? lol

I think if more people would travel abroad there would be more understanding of what it is like to be a minority in this country. For those who cannot afford to travel, with housing patterns in this country you can easily make yourself a minority on the micro level, if only for a day (I realize, Kate, this isn't the same as being in a foreign country!). Lets face it, not to many white people have spent a whole day hanging out with nothing but people of color in a black/latino neighborhood. And most would be scared to!

Congrats Kate on taking this opp to expand your mind and step outside your comfort zone instead of being just another tourist. Heart ya.