Light Skin Privilege: Deecolonize Academy Final Essay 2020


Tiny - Posted on 06 January 2021

By Tiburcio Garcia

 
As I walk through the double glass doors, hearing the familiar chime go off, a burst of AC caresses my nose, and I shake my head. I continue up the small incline heading deeper into Alshuja Grocery, saying hi to the dude behind the counter as I go to the refrigerated section to get vitamin water. I'm thinking of how much longer it would take for my clothes to be finished washing, and suddenly a short black guy storms in, every muscle tense and looking around furiously, exclaiming out “Where's that white boy who was messin wit my sh**!?”
 
I kept walking to the counter, thinking to myself he's talking about someone else, another white boy. Then reality caught up to me, and within seconds I responded, “hey man I wasn't messing with your clothes, let's check the security cams”.
 
He was a fair dude, just confused and angry because he thought he saw me rummaging through his things. This encounter, in many different shapes and forms, has happened, like a broken record skipping since I have been old enough to understand what “white boy” or “guero” meant.
 
“You were light skinned, and hating themselves for being moreno “brown” they loved you for because of your light skin,”said my mother, Tiny.
 
One of my earliest childhood memories was my aunty Ingrid teaching me how to wash my hands. She said that after I finished scrubbing, I needed to shake them out into the sink, in order to not waste the paper towels needed for drying hands. I remember one time when I did it without being reminded she smiled and It felt like the sun was rising in my chest. She raised me as if I was her son, and took care of me along with her own son, Alex. She has never known English, nor to my knowledge has tried to learn much of it, so she taught me Spanish.
 
Every day, in our conversations (mostly her explaining things to me and Alex) she presented words that I didn't understand. I asked her questions, like ‘que significa esa palabra’, and she would explain it to me the best she could, leading me to more questions. This is how it went for years, until I could hold a small conversation with Ingrid, and understand almost everything she said. All of this took place in the Mission District of San Francisco, the city and neighborhood I grew up in, and with a strong latinx community the Mission was a perfect place for me to learn about my language and culture, or so I thought.
 
As I grew older, straying further away from the kid who jumped up and down when Thomas the Train came on the T.V, I began to notice things about my surroundings. I had always walked around the neighborhood with Ingrid, talking to people and saying hi to them in Spanish, in fact sometimes to help me practice she would have me order food or ask for meat at the Butcher. However, as I started to look less like a younger child and more like a young man, the eyes on me began to turn cold like a winter morning. Before, I was the light-skinned charge of a well-respected member of the community, now I'm “one of them”. With age, I started to look like the people who were slowly kicking the people of this neighborhood out of their homes. White, and entitled.
 
 For a while, this fact escaped me, because I let it. I convinced myself that they saw me the same, and everything was alright. For three years, I told myself nothing had changed. I finally came to terms with it, but by then the neighborhood that was my home for 7 years was no longer. I had been kicked out by the same people I looked like, the white and entitled ones. My mother and I bounced around from place to place for a while, sometimes homeless, sometimes housed, but never secure. We found a place after a while, living with my former step-father Tony in the Sunset District of San Francisco, and for years and years, I was able to not have to deal with the color of my skin. 
 
Then, my birthplace, my home, was taken from me officially, mold poisoning in the last house kicking us out of my city for good. With nowhere to go, we were forced to move to Oakland, and fast track the Homefulness Project, which at the time was still mostly a dream, so the first family could move in. That family was me and my mother, and once we moved in, and for years after, I wasn't looked at differently due to the color of my skin. I had a school called Deecolonize Academy that supported me and taught me unique and valuable lessons, and friends who judged me by my character, not my race. All of this changed when I decided I wanted to go to Coliseum College Prep Academy (CCPA), a public high school.
 
In the beginning, when I first started going to CCPA, people came up to me, interested in what I had to say and who I was, finding it fascinating that I knew Spanish, and for the first time in a long while, I felt a hint of what I thought was that sun rising in my chest, and I wanted more. I let the curious questions and immediate friends I made ride over me like a wave, soaking it up as if I was a sponge, completely open and recieving. I was a sensation, a white kid who knew spanish, and was nice. Then, it all turned dark. 
 
Wiping my blurry eyes as I walked in the chilly classroom, everyone staring at me as I walked by all of the desks to get to mine, the sound of my crutches hitting the floor ringing out, seeming to get louder with every step. A couple of months in, less and less people came up to me, and the public eye drifted away from the “new guy” into the next big thing. After an achilles injury that left me using crutches, my mobility issues prevented people from getting to class due to needing to walk around me, and everything that drew the crowd to me in the beginning now made them despise me. They began to hate on my light skin, which brought back the insecurity I hadn’t felt since I lived in the mission, and the sun now felt like the end of a cigarette being stomped out with a shoe.
 
 “...you became withdrawn, weirdly sad and quiet, and dark. You became more pessimistic, and sort of stopped caring about the stuff that you normally cared about, adapting to the no-caring mannerism of the rest of the world” my mother told me after I asked her about that time, “...before you went, you were constantly dismissive of the blessings you had here, and the people who loved you, of the knowledge you already had, and all the work that we all did. “You were dreaming constantly of what was waiting for you in the ‘mans-school’, and the funny thing was, you didn't see the man's-school aspect of going to college, no, you were only fixated on high-school,” she finished. 
 
That “sun rising in my chest” I felt again after so long was a ghost of what once was, being accepted into a community, and I thought I found that again by going to CCPA. That community had no idea who I was, and when they thought they found out they didn't like who I was. What I failed to realize was the sun rising in my chest, warming me up, was a community that protected me, and after going to CCPA for a semester, I dropped out, because what I had failed to realize is the community who accepted me no matter what I looked like, no matter what language I spoke, was here, at Homefulness.  

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