As a kid in New York, I never really considered my off-whiteness. Though most of my closest friends were “white” — whatever that means — not once did our varying shades of pink, yellow, and brown skin factor into our friendships. My adolescence was never marred by any vile racial experience. My parents taught me not to ignore color but, rather, to spurn any judgments made with it, and I guess I must’ve thought that everyone operated the same way.
I know now that, unfortunately, most people do make race-based character judgments — that the greatest injustices grow from racism. And since I’ve learned that sad truth, I’ve known that I’m lucky.
I’ve never felt critically disadvantaged by my Hispanic-ness. I was born to hard-working, ass-kicking parents who gifted my brother and me an unduly charmed life on Fifth Avenue. They’ve paid for our elite educations since we were three years old, kept us well fed and protected, and seen to it that we’ve been able to pursue all of our little passions; they were successful despite their race, and since they arrived in the States, they’ve sweat to ensure that race won’t ever be something their kids have to overcome. And it hasn’t. And because it hasn’t, on the rare occasion that I feel attacked or crippled by reason of my race, I’m lost — utterly fazed and quite heartbroken.
You remember my experience at Oktoberfest. It was a remarkable experience — but, unfortunately, not without its regrettable moments.
On the first day of the festival, my best friend Ilena — whom you might recall from her run-in with the law at LAX — and I were enjoying our beers with some particularly gregarious German lads when a hulking security guard approached us.
“Come with me.”
At first we ignored him; he couldn’t possibly have been talking to us, after all.
“Can you hear? You and you,” he pointed at Ilena and me. “Come with me.”
I was rattled. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Did we do something wrong?”
“I’m going to ask you one more time, and this time, I don’t want any follow-up questions. Come with me.”
I stood up. “Excuse me, but where I come from, this doesn’t fly. I want to know why you’re asking my friend and I to leave when we’ve done nothing wrong.”
The prick rolled his eyes, “That’s nice. Now start walking.”
I didn’t know what to do. We started walking.
Once he’d escorted us out, I turned to him, hoping he’d have the decency to illuminate the atrocity we’d committed to warrant his reproach.
“Will you please just tell us why you’re kicking us out?”
He smirked. “Because I can. Welcome to Germany.”
I hope I’m wrong; I hope he didn’t see a Hispanic girl and an Asian girl — both clad in revealing clothes — sitting with a group of blonde-haired, blue-eyed men and think, “I don’t like that. I want them out.” But I don’t think I am.
My intention is by no means to demonize or pass judgment on Germany — or more generally, Europe — as a “racist” country, or consequently, to glorify the US as any less “racist” than its neighbor. While we may be accustomed to a much more silent, covert brand of racism back home, that doesn’t make it any less destructive — if anything, the very opposite is true.
So, the next time someone argues that we’re living in a post-racial society; that we no longer need affirmative action or that they’ve experienced “reverse racism,” please tell them that you know two 20-year-old women who were thrown out of a public event because someone didn’t dig the skin they were in.