Being in the middle is frustrating. It is as irritating as being a middle child, as maddening as sitting in the middle seat of the car, or as exasperating as being stuck waiting for the loading bar to finish. Think of the old elementary game of ‘monkey in the middle.’ Two kids volleying an object between the two of them, never letting the poor unfortunate kid in the middle even touch the toy.
This is where I found myself one afternoon, stuck in between my peers.
It is a warm day, and I’m lounging around outside the PAC, enjoying lunch with my friends. The topic turns to microaggressions — you know, just your typical teenage conversation. There I was, going off — “As a person of color,-” I start — until one comment stops me: a mocking “hah, what color?”
I stop. And, I get it — I really do. It is blatantly obvious when my skin is often referred to as paper white or observed to be several shades lighter than some of my Caucasian peers. But that does not make me Caucasian, nor does it allow me to reap the benefits of one.
The dismissal of my own struggles was insulting. The insinuation that I was not allowed to say anything on the matter because of my skin tone instead of my ethnicity and culture was preposterous.
All of this is a result of colorism: the prejudice and discrimination against darker skinned people, especially those of the same ethnic or racial group. This is shown through the widespread notion that lighter-skinned individuals are inherently prettier. The abundance of skin-bleaching soaps and products available for purchase proves this notion.
I do recognize that darker-skinned individuals have it much harder than I do, and that they have to pass through more hurdles in society in order to get ahead. In America, people of color have a history of mistreatment and prejudices against them. Systematic racism is integrated into the society we live in. Even across the world, European standards are exalted as the norm. Because of this, I am not completely removed from this social construct.
As an Asian, people expect me to be docile and quiet. People idolize me and put me up on a pedestal — holding me up to expectations that I can never reach. I am perceived to be weaker and gentler, or even worse, “exotic.”
One might ask, “well, how is that a bad thing?”
Perhaps the actual stereotypes themselves do not pose any direct threat towards me, but the insinuation that I have to fit into a mold of what American society expects me to be like is exhausting and unnatural. The implication that I do not have the right to complain about these circumstances is degrading. I am my own person too, and I am allowed to be frustrated with my place in the world. I should not have to put a cap on my complaints because “others have it worse than I do.” This is not a competition of who has it worse, when we are all trying to better our community.
And because of that, perhaps I do play into my stereotypes well. Scared of sounding entitled and ignorant, I remain silent as my darker-skinned friends talk over me. Why does the fact that I have pale skin dictate whether or not I can speak up about a subject?
As desi Youtuber Cas Jerome said: “Are we just going to pretend that because I’m not ‘light skinned’, but I’m not ‘dark skinned’, that [discrimination] did not happen to me?”
This is an issue that is already segregating one group of people that should be held together by a common culture. Everyone needs to speak up about this issue, because both sides have valid points. The silence of a group of people will not further the cause. The silence of a group will not give you a greater voice.
In any case, having people who have more ground and privilege in society will bring more attention and light to an issue, thus allowing more progress on ameliorating the issue.
Not to take away from the discrimination that darker-skinned individuals face, but colorism also negatively affects lighter-skinned people of color. Though they can benefit from the system and definitely do have advantages over their fellow colored people, this is a phenomenon that oppresses all of us.
Until this “them vs. us” mentality changes, there will always be a tension. However, for now, all I am is just stuck in the middle.