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Whitewashed: More Incorrect Than You Know

John Naranjo

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A couple of weeks ago my brother, sister and I were having a conversation on the topic of racism and how we’ve been unfairly treated because of our race. As we were talking my brother brought up the idea of being “whitewashed” and how he’s been accused of being un-Mexican for ridiculous things like not working as a gardener or not dressing like the typical “cholo” stereotype. While I’ve been told myself that I’m whitewashed, I never really stopped to consider the real weight of that term. After some thought I realized that “whitewashed” has one, very simple definition: to not fit into the cultural expectations that other people have set for you based on racial stereotypes. While there are some people who do deny their own culture in favor of another, most of the people who are unfairly labeled as whitewashed have had no control over the factors that have led to said labeling.

One of the biggest ways I’ve seen this and one that I can personally relate to is the fact that some people who are thought to be whitewashed cannot speak the language of the ethnic group they identify with. I have lost count of how many times I’ve been told I’m not really Latino, mostly by other Latinos, because I can’t speak Spanish and after about 10 years of hearing it I have to say it’s gotten old. I grew up in a Latino household and I know all the crazy things that come with it from having to clean something before you’re allowed to go out to storing pots and pans in the oven. I take full ownership of the Latino identity and it’s completely unfair to say I’m any less Latino than someone else just because I only speak English. It’s not my fault that my parents didn’t teach me Spanish and being unable to speak it does not make me whitewashed.

Another reason people are labeled as whitewashed is the fact that they don’t resemble, either in appearance, behavior or upbringing, the stereotypical person of that race. For instance, I’ve had a Chinese friend who has told me that he was labeled as whitewashed because his mother isn’t a tiger mom. A friend of mine who is black has also expressed to me frustrations about being considered “white” by her friends because she is “more educated” and “keeps off the streets,” which are incredibly offensive to think of as uncharacteristic of black people. What these racial stereotypes do is create expectations for how a person should act or look based on their race. As soon as people do not fit them people who uphold these expectations consider them to be whitewashed. However this only facilitates the perpetuation of said stereotypes.

Another issue I see is when disadvantaged members of an ethnic minority hold resentment towards someone of the same ethnicity who is more privileged. This resentment often finds itself in the form of the aforementioned whitewashed labeling. Because the majority of white people in the United States benefit from white privilege, when people see that other people of their minority group have similar privileges, they associate this with being white. This is simply a supposition of pure ignorance and spite and does nothing but help the establishment of tensions between people of the same ethnic groups.

I am the son of a second generation Mexican-American and a first generation Colombian-American. I have known the struggles that come with being Latino. I have faced discrimination from other groups for being Latino and have faced discrimination from my own people for not being able to speak Spanish. Despite this I am proud to be of Latino descent. I am proud to take ownership of this identity and just as I am proud of this so are many other people of minority groups who are unfairly labeled as whitewashed. Stereotyping has always been one of the biggest factors behind racial tensions. If a person is a stereotypical person of their race, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Likewise if someone does not fit the stereotype that is not a bad thing either and most certainly does not make that person whitewashed. Everyone should be proud to identify with their own race and cultural background regardless of a their individual circumstances.

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Whitewashed: More Incorrect Than You Know