Monday, May 24, 2010

Chronicles of Albinism - Being interpreted (threatened) as a White dude and an Ethnic dude in the same day

An educational story regarding the intersection of 'ability' and 'race' in the United States

In case you don't know me very well. I don't really speak on my albinism to outsiders very often. It draws a lot of unwanted sympathy and I don't interpret it on a context of social construction such as race for example. I guess I can approach race better because I am a Mestizo, with my brown skin interpreted rather than an actual biological state... providing a layer of distance in some respects. But on a cultural level, I resonate strongly with my Latinidad. This creates a strange tension where issues of 'race' or 'identity' are put to its own little test, these lines are intersected several ways around like two ropes wrapped over each other many times. And this is where the rubber hits the road on a personal level... this is where I feel hurt, pain, the inferiority complexes on multiple levels. So, the story to talk about this took place this weekend.. on the same day.

Episode 1:Train Ride
Another set of obvious delays made for a very packed train this weekend. I, and the rest of the weekend sheep where packing it in to avoid the 20 minute wait for the next train to show. Living in NE and traveling frequently to NW, I see quite a bit of social and racial differences along the way. In both the Northeast Red and Green lines, I see a lot of kids, African American kids. In particular, the kids that blast their cell phones to their favorite thug and Go-go tunes, talk loudly and hurt your ears with beautiful youthful voices saying words like 'bitch', 'muthafucka' and 'fuck'. These are the kids the others avoid or pretend are not there, the kids who the olders and non-Blacks roll their eyes at when they get off the train. At the Chinatown station where the red, green, yellow lines meet, the transition takes place. At this point, you get the white sophistos, the jerks, and the olders, who run Washington DC. Here come the transplants from other states that stroll through Georgetwon, GW, or American Universities, work for some politician or lawyer, or commute back over to Bethesda... live and die in Northwest.

So, back to the packing it in... I slide my way into the train in Northwest's Dupont Circle where I meet a wall of human flesh and metal poles... I squirm my way through to find that little oasis of space for me to chill for the next eight stops... where I hear somebody go... "Yo! That dude in the Kangol wants to get in the train! Let him through!" I look up to see a bunch of cargo shorts, white T-shirts, flips flops and pale flesh crowded about in the middle of the car. They are the loudest and most obnoxious white dudes I've seen on the train, demonstrated by their loud steroid-driven 'dude!', 'brah!', 'dafuk!' and 'faggot' (and yes, we are in Dupont Circle). One of the brahs proceeds to fuck with me from across the way, noting my shirt... which was a rasta-inspired Damien Marley kinda shirt.. with the Lion of Judah on it, and Red Gold and Green complementing my Kaongol, a tribute to Slick Rick and Hip Hop style of yesteryear.

"Hey mon!!" "by de beech' and "herb mon!" was now being said loudly for the rest of the train to hear... I began to feel uncomfortable, targeted by a group of about 7 white boys making fun of my rasta clothes and kangol hat. The blood began to boil inside, as I stood there looking back at them. I couldn't think of a comeback as these dudes were on that sterioid shit... being obnoxious, yelling out "Chilli Cookoff!" (A rock concert) and being that scary idontgiveafuckcauseourraceisknownforjeffereydolmershit attitude. Folks in the train began to look at me, drawn by their attention to my shirt and with wonder about what I was to do about this. A white woman with her bags heading to Union Station stared at me. I glanced down and all she did was smile that 'oh, boys will be boys' look. They probably reminded her of her nice little boy, beating up kids in school, taking 'roids and hanging with that one Black friend that lets him get away with being racist to their face... yeah, she was that kind of lady. Their stop came, they proceeded to walk out being loud, and annoying others along the way. As they walked over, I punched each one in the face... but then the chime of the doors rang and I was thrown back into reality, standing there, having not done a thing.

Episode 2: at night... specifically 12am.
After visiting my girlfriend in Northwest, it was time to head home to Northeast. As a Latino, I feel a bit uncomfortable in both quadrants, a fly in the ointment of United States racial politics, and especially in DC culture where color dictates your status. You always hear of muggings when you talk to folks about Northeast. You mom and dad give you that hesitant face and always tell you to be careful around there. Sophistos always remark with statements like "Oh man, I heard of Brookland but I never been there" or ask you "Oh, how is that?"... like you went to the fucking Peace Corps or something. Brookland is a unique place, a mix of old Black Neighborhood, lower to upper middle class, white Catholic U kids, Hippies, and older middle class whites who kinda 'get it'. We literally have train tracks with an 'other side' to it. Developers just showed up recently as well. Truth is, it's not Northwest. The mixing of these different cultures makes for unique experiences and journeys. There is some element of paranoia for me, one of my roommates was mugged the first night he moved into the neighborhood. Another was held up at gunpoint as he was putting the key into his apartment. I stopped some kids from breaking into my house once. But we also get together at our local bar, we hand out candy to the kids on Halloween, and most of us know each other on our street.

As someone who is legally blind, I am always alert of my surroundings. As an intuitive person, my spidey-sense is always on blast. Living in urban settings, I always have my guard up. And walking out of the metro at 12am, I had an eerie sense to take my keys out and place the largest key out of my knuckle... just in case. I was three houses away from my driveway when I noticed a group of 10 teenagers walking towards me... being the sidewalk only has enough room to hold two people side-by-side, I figured there was some negotiation to be made. As I walked closer, I counted about 8 teenaged Black males and two Black females... talking loudly, being young. I got a bit nervous. As they were approaching, I thought, "If I try to make a move out of the way, that might catch their attention"... or "If I walk straight through, I'll be engulfed and something might happen". I decided to walk through since there is nothing to fear, no reason to worry (the fact it was 12am for a bunch of under 18 year olds walking around on a weekend did pop in my head). As the moment of truth came, none of them moved out the way... I negotiated some Star Wars X-wing fighter shit to avoid any shoulder checking, a couple of them did make the slightest of swerves. Outnumbered and outgunned, I figured it was the best strategy. Then, as I was just out of the asteroid field... I heard a voice say "damn a muthafucka can't move young!", then "Move out da way fucking bitch".

I kept walking, not looking back... not trying to provoke. Then the one that got me was "fucking PT looking white ass motherfuker!" That shit stung... it was the 'white' part more than anything else. I felt it was uncalled for, I felt misidentified... I felt the anger and resentment this guy had towards me... a cascade of history, of ongoing heritage was being applied to me at once. Or should I say misapplied, misinterpreted, mistreated, undeserved. I walked up to the driveway, turned around and saw them continue to say shit as they walked away. At this point my heart was beating and my blood boiled to the point of complete evaporation. If I said something, they might turn around and come at me. If I don't, my pride would be hurt that ten kids got off fucking with me... it took me about two hours and calling my girl to vent to get it down to just a simmer...

Epilogue: Black on Both sides, White on Both sides, No Latino at all. Albinism all around.
While the first verbal attack pissed me off as obnoxious white boys were being obnoxious white boys... the second one hurt. The white boys didn't really call me out for being Albino, as most white folks tend to interpret me as one of their own, and a few sense that I am different but cannot tell what it is. What bothered me was that these guys pointed out aspects of me of some sort of 'ethnic' value. Then, they applied stereotypes about these ethnic features in a complete demonstration of how little they know of Rasta, Jamaica, Reggae, or people of color for that matter. The fact they didn't give a fuck to be like that in front of others shows this group's privilege. As a Latino/Mestizo, it hurt cause I am 'ethnic', and my kinship to people of color, oppressed groups, and underrepresented was there. I also felt weak for not standing up to them, as I feared for my safety. And being legally blind, you cannot see very well to fight and read the other person... putting me at a physical disadvantage. In the other scenario, it hurt that I was interpreted as a white boy. Immediately being placed in that dichotomy, being excluded by a group that I share a kinship with, a struggle. It's like having beef with your family member for being different, for having a different daddy. They too showed their ignorance of race and Albinism. In a Christian context, good old Noah, the guy with the flood and the two-of-everything, was said to have been Albino... it was he who produced the races through his three sons. In scientific terms, lack of melanin among many of us is actually a resulting genetic variation, as early humans of darker complexions produced the first Albinos. Notice today that people of darker complexion can produce lighter skinned children... Whites do not produce darker skinned children.

Across different cultures, the placement of people with Albinism varies. Some cultures see us as spiritual beings, some target us as part of a spiritual-based genocide for our 'magical powers', others celebrate us for being gifts. In the United States, we really fall in a funny place. There are many African Americans who are Albino, and their facial features and hair indicate so. There are Whites who have albinism and know it, and others that don't cause they don't look too far off from their light-skinned family members. I, as a Mestizo in the United States, have a different experience. Many African Americans first take me as White. Many Whites take me as White. And Many Latinos take me as White. And that is where the intersection is, as my Albinism puts me in a weird position along the United States' rigid, but flawed design of social racial politics, which in my opinion, is mutually exclusive. I get drawn into a fight that I feel is unwarranted. It hurts to be misread by everyone for reasons that are completely inappropriate. I always have to out myself to be seen for who I am. And I am not saying that my Albinism is an outlier in my own identity... its completely a part of who I am. But when you mix up contexts incorrectly, then I feel out of place. There is also the physical inability to see well... which hinders my options when there are things such as violence and protection to be considered. We tend to overcompensate to make up for limitations. But overcompensation is also a reminder of our limited capacities.

I wish I had a resolution for you folks, but this is an ongoing journey... it helps to share. But it would help to have answers and to be seen and understood in the way I wish to be, and not in the way you see it. So, think about it, pass this on... it might make it easier next time I ride the train.

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