I am a young Arab-American woman of many identities and I pass as white, but I am not white.
I hate that I feel like I need to educate people about this.
Passing is the process of being assigned a value by someone else, whilst your true identity is devalued, disrespected, and marginalized.
Most Arab-Americans and Arabs I know identify as white, though more and more do not. For those of us who do not, it’s usually because we recognize the role that colonization has played in making us think we were just white enough to ignore all the trauma, marginalization, and systems of oppression that has been inflicted upon us by international political systems and countries like the United States and Israel.
Hey, if we’re white, it’s not racism, right? But by stripping us of our cultural identities and our sense of self, a huge chasm has successfully been created between our true identities, our sense of identity, and our chance to successfully defend that identity, whether through writing or through war. This leaves our cultures and countries open for business by anyone else with enough money to steal, adopt, or “borrow” as needed.
I didn’t choose to identify as a person of color, I only recognized that I always was.
Identifying as a person of color, a young radicalized brown woman, was a reclamation of self, a recognition that my identity was not a cultural pawn to be shared and passed amongst white peers who could do with my identity what I wished, who could assign me value based on their own values, who could use my identity as they needed.
My body, my sense of self, my cultural understanding, my family, my traditions, my experiences (even those of marginalization, disenfranchisement, and prejudice) are NOT yours to use to for your own purposes. They are not anyone’s to assign value to or not. Nobody get to assign me an identity based on your (privileged) understanding of how I can be useful to you.
You know what I get to do though? I get to break free of the collar of colonized thinking, accept who I am and who I have always been; recognize how I have been othered; recognize the trauma inherent in passing; get very angry; and decide I have value anyway as I truly am, regardless of any perception of how I could be useful to anybody else.
By recognizing myself as a person of color, who I am and why I am what I am, I get to help bridge the divide in cultural movements. Can you imagine the day when Arab-Americans stand in solidarity with African-Americans, Latino and Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans of all cultural backgrounds? Does that scare you and your privilege? It should.
Check out Koa Beck’s article from “Salon” on passing for white and straight: here: http://www.salon.com/2013/12/09/passing_for_white_and_straight_how_my_looks_hide_my_identity/