I feel like since it’s St. Patty’s Day, I should totally drink some green beer. Or whiskey. And that’s one of the things I appreciate most about St. Patty’s Day. It’s the one holiday you celebrate exclusively by drinking copious quantities of alcohol and pinching people. There are so many people I want to pinch today. Some of them, right on their fat, smug faces. (One of the faces I want to pinch really, really hard, so hard it leaves a welt, is conspicuously orange.) I desperately want to pinch one person gently on his cute little tushy. But yeah. St. Patty’s Day legitimizes desires that would be antisocial any other day of the year. And for that, I love it.
Also, I love it because I can wear a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” pin and mean it. I am Irish. My dad’s father was named Hugh Hackett. You don’t get more Irish than that. My dad’s mother was named Carmen Sanchez. You don’t get more Hispanic than that. My mom was mostly French. LeBuff. Or LeBouff. Or something really Frenchy that starts with “Le”. I can’t tell you the exact spelling, but I can tell you it sounds like a meat dish I would get glared at for trying to order in Paris. (Parisians don’t like you when you order meat dishes with an American accent. In fact, if you have an American accent, they would prefer you shut the hell up altogether, or maybe dissolve, like a bad guy in a vat of acid, Breaking Bad style.) Anyway, that French word was my mom’s family name. (Fun fact: both of my mom’s grandfathers were French Canadian, which means she can become a Canadian citizen if she wants. I’m pressing her to do it so we can all move to Canada before Trump blows up America. In lieu of that, I’m emigrating to Mars.) To complicate things, we found out Grandma Carmen’s ancestors actually left Spain fleeing the Inquisition because they were Spanish Jews. So once upon a time, my family was Jewish.
When people ask me what my race is, I always say, “I’m Irish, French, and Hispanic.” They look confused by the Hispanic part because I’m the whitest white girl you will ever meet. So I always helpfully add, “The Irish won.” Mathematically speaking, I am Hispanic enough that I could get grants and other things reserved for people of Hispanic heritage, but I don’t try because those programs are in place to make some small attempt to compensate for the racism many Hispanic people have to endure on a day-to-day basis. I don’t have to deal with any of that. Anyone looking at me assumes I’m white, white, white.
But no one ever has trouble believing my brother is Hispanic. He’s this big, dark-haired, dark-skinned dude, and when he walks into a restaurant, people step aside because if you are into racism (and we all are, whether we mean to be or not, raised as we were in this racist cesspool of a culture), you subconsciously fear that he will drag you into a dark alley and shank you.
Which is funny because if you knew my brother, you would vote him “Least Likely to Shank Someone, Ever, In the History of the World.” Also, “Most Likely to Take a Serial Killer into His Home and Get Chopped Up While Trying to Rehabilitate Him.” (That last title used to belong to me, but then, I actually came too-close-for-comfort to getting chopped up by one of my charity cases and realized the whole Mother Theresa thing was overrated. Now I’m meaner than I probably need to be. If you look at me funny, I will deem you a potential serial killer and refuse to be in the same room with you. Can you say “over correction”? It’s a problem. I’m working on it.)
But I guess because I come from such a colorful family, I’ve gotten to see, at least a tiny bit, the difference a little melanin can make in a person’s day to day interactions. My gorgeous Grandma Carmen was acutely aware of this. She dyed her hair blond and didn’t teach any of her nine children Spanish. We had traditional Mexican foods at Christmas, but that was as far as the exploration of that part of our heritage went. A tamale here. An empanada there. A bowl of nice, hot posole. I remember watching people be afraid of my Hispanic-looking dad when I was little and wondering what it was all about. My dad was the nicest man I’ve ever known. But strangers would sometimes cross the street to avoid him.
I won’t lie to you. I appreciate the fact that people are scared of my brother. If I’m going somewhere dangerous, I take him along, and people step the hell aside. I think, “Yeah, that’s right, bitch. Walk away. Dude’ll shank you.” I just hope he won’t open his mouth because if he starts talking about quantum physics and God and pacifism, the whole jig is up. But if you think about it, it’s weird that I can count on people not messing with me when my big, Mexican brother is walking beside me. I have a 6’3”, 220 pound, very white son. He doesn’t get the same reactions, so it’s not just a guy thing. It’s a melanin thing.
Race is weird. The further we move through history, the harder it gets to pin down. But we can’t pretend it’s irrelevant until it really is irrelevant, until people don’t think my dark-skinned brother is going to shank them, until our prisons aren’t chocked full of brown people and our legislatures aren’t brimming with white people (mostly men, but that’s another essay for another day, maybe Women’s Day).
Race is hard to define, and yet, it defines everything about the way we exist in our current, screwed up world. I long for the day when we are all just mutts, when nobody remembers that skin color was ever a thing we worried about. (Another fun fact: the Romans didn’t give a damn about skin color. They persecuted all kinds of people, for all kinds of reasons, but none of it had to do with the color of their skin. We’ve just picked this criteria for our oppression because we needed our own special brand of asshole to set ourselves apart in history. And we’ve done a bang up job of it. Go us!)
But yeah. We need to stop. However, we can’t make it be over by pretending it’s over any more than we can make St. Patty’s Day over by pretending it’s Christmas. (Try pinching someone for not wearing green on Christmas, and see where that gets you.) Until we’ve actually got this shit figured out, we need to face the fact that we are all a little racist, and it’s probably not even our faults, raised as we were in this racist cesspool of a culture. We need to be actively aware that we have, on some level, been brainwashed into believing that brown is bad and white is good, and when we feel those things rising to the surface in us, we need to acknowledge them and say, “Slow down, Kujo. I’m not going to be a dick because of some deep-seeded racist bullshit going on in my subconscious.” (By the way, if autocorrect tries to change “bullshit” to “vulkshit” one more time, I’m going to throw my computer through a window. Vulkshit? Is that an oblique Star Trek reference?) And act accordingly. Because pretending racism isn’t there, and blaming people who say it is, isn’t really fixing anything.
Just ask my brother. Or don’t. Because if you talk to him, you’ll find out he’s not even close to bad ass. And I need you to believe he is. Because no one, and I mean no one, is afraid of a translucently white, female poet, no matter how mean she tries to be.