Nor am I a “sellout”, “blackish” or any other unflattering and slightly offensive word that’s used to describe my proclaimed inverted personality. I am American.
I am American, and last time I checked, America did not have a singular color. We are cream, red, yellow, olive, brown. Thousands of shades, but understandably so, America’s default is white. White- not only colorless, but in our country, culture-less.
In 1952, Frantz Fanon wrote “For the Black man, there is only one destiny and it is White”. A black man would have to shed his color if he were to get anywhere in the world, and shedding his color meant shedding his culture. Whether it was a quote my parents were aware of or not, that’s exactly how I was raised. Moving from East New York to New Jersey during middle school meant that I learned how to play soccer instead of double dutch. The cello instead of the steel pan. Fall Out Boy lyrics instead of Keyshia Cole. My Black mom raised me on country music, and my Puerto Rican dad neglected to teach me Spanish in order to “white-wash me”.
Undoubtedly, I became victim to the suburban culture. Taylor Swift is still my idol, The Hills will always be my favorite TV show and I probably say the word “like” way more than necessary- all traits associated with Caucasian females of the United States. Thus, being Hispanic/Black, I’ve been called an oreo, being “black on the outside and white on the inside”. People have occasionally called me a “white girl at heart” to their amusement. And I get it, that this is all said in a joking manner- but truth be told, I’ve realized this does more harm than good.
Putting a label on me- tagging me as a race that I am not- is something that has always bothered me, even if I exhibit these supposed tendencies. Maybe because I know it’s supposed to be taken light heartedly; a compliment even; than an offense. And that’s the problem. Calling me a “white girl” means disregarding my actual background in favor for a term that society accepts with levity, with ease, with approval. The stereotype is used as the butt of jokes and therefore many do not understand the point of this article. “Why are you getting worked up over a joke? Calm down, it’s not even an insult”.
And it isn’t. White girls are one of the least marginalized and least controversial groups in our society. They have some privilege that others may not. So, calling someone white must be harmless, right? Kaitlyn calls Imani a white girl. Laughs. Kaitlyn calls Hannah a black girl? Kaitlyn gets a dirty look. Why is that? We all know why- because then you’d be associating dear Hannah with the ‘hood, and how is that equivalent to the praise of associating Imani with suburbia? There in the latter hides a hidden bias towards the privileged, because who would want to be tied to the deep history and rich heritage that is black culture? A culture that oreos are supposedly neglectful of because of whatever reasons.
But the potency of the term didn’t hit home for me until Christmas dinner when a cousin learned that instead of rushing a multicultural sorority like she did, I decided to join a Panhellenic- a traditionally white sorority. Annoyed, she told me to look at myself in the mirror, to “stop being ashamed of who I am. Look at your skin color. You will never be White, no matter how hard you try. You’re such an oreo”. Throughout high school I embraced the term as some sort of accolade, that I was one of them. It wasn’t until that dinner that I noticed why- it was because of what Fanon said. My cousin had put things into perspective that I was too afraid to. But being ashamed of my Hispanic/Black background?
No, I don’t straighten my hair to fit in, I straighten it because it’s way easier to manage than leaving it natural. I prefer Top 40 over Rap & Hip Hop because of the excess of obscenities in the latter, but I’ll gloat for 20 minutes about the small Caribbean island my mother was raised on. And even though I don’t watch telenovelas nor speak Spanish, that does not mean I don’t appreciate a good plate of rice and beans every now and then. My identification with my other cultures can take various other forms than the stereotypical, but many fail to notice that.
Us “oreos” are not ashamed of being Black, but that does not mean we want to be called White. I appreciate my pigment, thank you very much. Because at the end of the day, my cousin raised a valid point. No matter how poised and educated I might be, I am reminded everyday that I am a person of color and will be treated accordingly. However, my lack of being more engrossed in the Hispanic/Black culture means that by society’s default, I am to be associated with the pumpkin spice latte loving, yoga pants wearing, “literally, I can’t” saying white girl stereotype. Yes, I have a North Face and Uggs because they’re extremely warm and comfortable, and NYC winters are brutal. I love T.Swift because her lyrics are all too relatable for any female. I joined my sorority because I had a real bond and connection with my (now) sisters. My love of Starbucks? Re: NYC. But by no means should my own personal choices lead to a label that society pushes upon me, even if said jokingly.
And for those of you who are indifferent about being labeled as such, or personally have no qualm self-identifying with it- that’s totally fine, to each their own. Oreo or not, it’s time we stop with the labels, and just accept people as is. A country as eclectic and diverse as the U.S. has no space for such categorizations. Let’s be real- that’d be too much work. We are who we are, and let’s just leave it at that.