Mexican Heaven: (Untold) Experiences of Mexican Immigrants

Cover of Citizen Illegal and author Jose Olivarez

Given today’s political climate with our current president, Jose Olivarez’s work, Citizen Illegal (2018), engages readers to learn and understand true experiences told by someone who is knowledgeable about Mexicans immigrating into the U.S. The collection of poems reveals cultural, social, and socio-political struggles of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. Citizen Illegal helps us re-imagine this topic by showcasing specific experiences that other Mexican immigrants can relate to while also educating readers of these experiences. It directs our attention to micro-level experiences that are not portrayed. Further, it encompasses emotions and experiences revolving around Mexican immigrants. Citizen Illegal is divided into five sections and contains poems ranging from 1 stanza to multiple stanzas in addition to the emotions ranging from nostalgia to sorrow. While there is no set character, the poems are meant to place the reader in Mexican immigrants’ position and enlighten relatable situations. Throughout the poems, readers learn about relations between individual family members, and between Mexican immigrants versus American society. Although Olivarez himself is not an immigrant, he is the son of immigrant parents, whose experiences informs some of his poems. His work helps readers understand the untold experiences of Mexican immigrants that no one thinks twice about. The poems allude to esoteric and specific experiences while educating and informing the reader of more than the misconceived notions or what is often portrayed in the media. Citizen Illegal highlights the experiences of Mexican immigrants that are not portrayed in media or that are seldom in discourse revolving Mexican immigrants. It challenges the representations of Mexican immigrants in U.S. cultural production and highlights untold experiences of Mexican immigrants. In particular, his multiple one-stanza poems titled “Mexican Heaven” describes and understands the ideal “heaven”/utopia that consists of both Mexican and American culture. The various “Mexican Heaven” poems allude to representations and experiences of Mexican immigrants that defy the misconstrued and negative portrayals of Mexican immigrants.

As Alejandro Portes and Robert L. Bach explains in their book Latin Journey: Cuban and Mexican Immigrants in the United States, the history of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. spans as far back as 1907 during the annexation of land belonging to Mexico (Bach and Portes 77). Eventually, the annexation of Mexico’s land reconfigures into the narrative and understanding of Mexican immigrants as “bad” because they are trying to “reconquer land that was formerly theirs (U.S. Southwest)” (Chavez 3). Often, what is portrayed or misconceived of Mexican immigrants is that they “don’t contribute to society” or “they’re taking all our jobs” or, as President Trump has most recently described them, “drug dealers, rapists, and criminals”. 
Unfortunately, we believe or perpetuate these notions because these narratives are most often the only ones portrayed, making us unaware of their untold experiences. In addition, these portrayals contribute to what author Leo Chavez coins as the “Latino Threat” narrative in his book, The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Narrative, and the Nation. The “Latino Threat” narrative encompasses the many assumptions of Mexican immigrants, including the “unwillingness to become part of the national community,” “illegal alien,” “destroying the way of American life,” and a foreigner (thus implying a threat to national security) (Chavez 3). The “Latino Threat” continues to perpetuate the discourses revolving Mexican immigrants in part (but not exclusively) because of the negative portrayals and the lack of continued struggles Mexican immigrants face. These portrayals are “typically devoid of nuances and subtleties of real lived lives”, consequently negating the additional obstacles and experiences of Mexican immigrants (Chavez 4). Because of the lack of appropriate Mexican immigrant portrayal and the over portrayal of the “Latino Threat” narrative (as made evident by President Trump), many individuals’ perceptions of Mexican immigrants revolve around the “Latino Threat” narrative.

While he has multiple poems titled “Mexican Heaven” in different sections of the book, the “Mexican Heaven” poem in the third section exemplifies Mexican women’s role in the Mexican community. The Washington Post conducted a research study to analyze the depictions of Mexican immigrants in news media. Their results asserted that while the majority of Mexican immigrants’ portrayals were harmful and produced them in a negative light, Mexican immigrant men were more often represented than Mexican immigrant women were. This “Mexican Heaven” poem complicates the portrayals of Mexican immigrants as it gives recognition to Mexican women, rather than Mexican men, who “are pictured more often than females” (Washington post).

The poem is one stanza, comprised of five lines, and narrates common domestic responsibilities:

all the Mexican women refuse to cook or clean

or raise the kids or pay the bills or make the bed or

drive your bum ass to work or do anything except

watch their novelas, so heaven is gross. The rats

are fat as roosters & the men die of starvation. (Olivarez 31)

The repetition of “or” throughout the poem separates the numerous tasks/responsibilities Mexican women have, even though they may not work at an actual job. The repetition produces the effect of an ongoing list that is “never-ending”, that the domestic responsibilities of Mexican women are endless. Additionally, in omitting commas to separate the tasks, the poem forces the readers to take their time in reading and reflecting on each task. This poem showcases that while Mexican immigrant women contribute just as much in providing for the family, even though it is not always portrayed. Moreover, in stating that this imagined “heaven” is where the women refuse to do this continuous list of tasks, it signifies that the “heaven” they imagine is different than the one they are living in. This poem illuminates that the “heaven” imagined for Mexican women is being able to relax and not do any of these tasks. However, the “heaven” they are living in (America) emphasizes that they have to do these tasks in order to help sustain their family’s life.

In examining Olivarez’s work, his poems speak to experiences and motivations of Mexican immigrants. As sociologist Carol Cleaveland observes in her research study, ‘In this country, you suffer a lot’: Undocumented Mexican immigrant experiences, Mexican immigrants individuals migrate “in order to spare their families potential suffering from poverty, or from having to immigrate themselves” (Cleaveland 582). They immigrate in pursuit of a better life, of the American Dream. Immigrating in pursuit of the American Dream reflects their concerns and worries of providing for their family and of financial stability (Hugo Lopez, “Latinos”). While there is no concrete definition to the concept of the American Dream, the Pew Research Center defines the American Dream as “hard work, financial security, career success and confidence that each new generation will be better off than the one before it” (Hugo Lopez, “Latinos”). The American Dream is the idea that if you work hard enough, you can achieve whatever you want.  In another short-stanza poem titled “Mexican Heaven”, Olivarez is able to articulate what an imagined “heaven” looks like to Mexican immigrants while highlighting the realities of coming to America and striving to achieve the American Dream. The poem further complicates the portrayals of Mexican immigrants by illuminating the concealed, continuous struggle of trying to provide for their family. In a seven-line stanza, the “Mexican Heaven” poem of the third section of the book showcases the contrasting ideas of the expectations versus the realities of America. Through the use of descriptive diction, Olivarez highlights to the reader the dismay of Mexican immigrants’ experience in America:

Saint Peter lets Mexicans into heaven

but only to work in the kitchens.

a Mexican dishwasher polishes the crystal,

smells the meals, & hears the music.

they dream of another heaven,

one they might be allowed in

if they work hard enough. (Olivarez 19)

cartoon taken from https://theimmigrants2010.wordpress.com/

The word “heaven” refers to the ending destination of Mexican immigrants: America. The word “heaven” juxtaposes where they come from, indicating that the place they are leaving in pursuit of “heaven” is unpleasant. As Cleaveland stated before, many Mexican immigrants migrate to the U.S. as “neo-liberal economics created untenable conditions for workers in Mexico” (Cleaveland 568). Mexican immigrants migrate because they are unable to work and therefore unable to make money to provide for their family. Additionally, the third, fourth, and fifth line of the poem contain diction that describe menial tasks, specifically referring to a job in the kitchen. The third and fourth sentences indicate that the worker is not enjoying the event, rather they are the ones prepping it. This portrays one of many low, “under-the-table” jobs Mexican immigrants work in order to sustain their life in America because of the disadvantages of language barriers and minimal education (Cleaveland 569). Because of their status, Mexican immigrants are forced to “work at jobs that are exploitative in terms of pay and benefits” (Cleaveland 571). Many places hire Mexican immigrants while not giving them the full benefits because it is cheap labor. Furthermore, describing these jobs by referencing some of the human senses (touch, smell, and hearing) places the reader in the shoes of a Mexican immigrant working the job. In placing the reader in this labor position, it illuminates an aspect of the life Mexican immigrants have in that they work “under-the-table” jobs because of their status.
The second half of the poem uses diction that refers to the idea of the American Dream. The words “dream” and the phrase “if they work hard enough” indicate that by working hard, one can achieve the American Dream. However, this poem showcases that “working hard enough” is not enough because Mexican immigrants are able to only work in menial occupations. It highlights an experience that is not often portrayed in the media and it recognizes the labor Mexican immigrants face in order to sustain their life.

Even after migrating to America, Mexican immigrants still face obstacles that remain concealed. One of these instances is the experience of Mexican immigrants needing to give up a part of their culture for the sake of white people. Olivarez encompasses this situation in another “Mexican Heaven” poem:

There are white people in heaven, too.

They build condos across the street

& ask the Mexicans to speak English.

I’m just kidding.

There are no white people in heaven. (Olivarez 21)

cartoon taken from https://newiesthirteen.wordpress.com/cartoons/

This Mexican Heaven poem highlights the relationship between Mexicans and the neighborhood they live in. It illuminates and an experience that it relatable (but not exclusive) to Mexican immigrants as it juxtaposes their positionality in relation to others, specifically white people. The contrasting diction of “build” and “ask” indicate that white people have the privilege to do and ask what they want of Mexican people. In incorporating the sentence about “speak[ing] English”; it illuminates the experience Mexican immigrants have about needing to change their language.
Additionally, the first sentence of the poem indicates the reality of being in America while the last sentence imagines a “heaven” in which there are no white people to denigrate them. In America, they are asked to rid their language and speak English, whereas in an imagined “heaven”, they do not have to worry about such an incident. The poem further illustrates Olivarez’s intentions, in which he states in a 2018 interview with Hannah Steinkopf-Frank of the Chicago Tribune. The interview, titled “Chicago Poet Jose Olivarez builds his own world in debut book ‘Citizen Illegal’,” contextualizes Olivarez’s background and experiences to show how they are illustrated in Citizen Illegal. In addition, the article suggests that while many of poems are based off of Olivarez’s experiences, they can also be accredited and attest to other experiences of Mexican immigrants, as he wanted to “create a space where Mexicans who already know the language feel that intimacy” (Steinkopf-Frank, “Chicago”). This poem highlights the experience of language as while each individual has their own obstacles, language is a common obstacle shared by (but not exclusive to) the Mexican community.

Primarily, analyzing Citizen Illegal and its multicultural contexts showcases that the portrayal of Mexican immigrants in U.S. cultural production is frequently a negative portrayal and disregards other aspects of Mexican immigrants’ experience. Citizen Illegal highlights and explains experiences that are not always depicted in discourse revolving around Mexican immigrants. In the “Mexican Heaven” poems, Olivarez is able to describe experiences in easy-to-understand terms, such as recognizing Mexican women’s role in the Mexican community, understanding the difficulty of striving for the American Dream, and understanding the sacrifice of culture in order to “make it” in America. After reading Citizen Illegal with additional research, I question why these experiences remain untold and why the negative portrayal of Mexican immigrants are perpetuated in U.S. cultural production. Citizen Illegal speaks to a specific audience that can relate to these experiences while educating other audiences of more than Mexican immigrants being “drug dealers, rapists, and criminals”. Ultimately, the discourse and portrayal of Mexican immigrants remains in this perpetuating state of unconstructiveness  unless challenged or enlightened, as Olivarez does in Citizen Illegal.

 

Works Cited

Chavez, Leo. The Latino Threat : Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation, Second Edition, Stanford University Press, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/dickinson/detail.action?docID=1162035.

Cleaveland, Carol. “‘In This Country, You Suffer a Lot’: Undocumented Mexican Immigrant Experiences.” Qualitative Social Work, vol. 11, no. 6, Nov. 2012, pp. 566–586.

Farris, Emily and Silber Mohamed, Heather. “The news media usually show immigrants as dangerous criminals. That’s changed – for now, at least.” Washington Post, 27 June 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/06/27/the-news-media-usually-show-immigrants-as-dangerous-criminals-thats-changed-for-now-at-least/?utm_term=.ee14874a0da7. Accessed 24 April 2019.

Hugo Lopez, Mark. “Latinos are more likely to believe in the American dream, but most say it is hard to achieve.” Pew Research Center, 11 Sept. 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/09/11/latinos-are-more-likely-to-believe-in-the-american-dream-but-most-say-it-is-hard-to-achieve/. Accessed 30 April 2019.

Olivarez, Jose. Citizen Illegal. Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2018

Portes, Alejandro, and Robert L. Bach. Latin Journey : Cuban and Mexican Immigrants in the United States, University of California Press, 1985. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/dickinson/detail.action?docID=470876.

Steinkopf-Frank, Hannah. “Chicago Poet Jose Olivarez builds his own world in debut book ‘Citizen Illegal’.” The Chicago Tribune. 11 Sept. 2018, Website, https://www.chicagotribune.com/redeye/culture/ct-redeye-jose-olivarez-poet-citizenillegal-20180808-story.html. Accessed 4 March 2019.

 

Esoteric Experiences in Citizen Illegal

In his 2018 collection of poems, Citizen Illegal, author Jose Olivarez encompasses emotions and experiences revolving around Mexican immigrants. Citizen Illegal is divided into five sections and contains poems ranging from 1 stanza to multiple stanzas and emotions of nostalgia to sorrow. While there is no set character, the poems are meant to either place the reader in the author/Mexican immigrants’ position or simply enlighten identifiable situations. Throughout the poems, readers learn about relations between individual family members, and between Mexican immigrants versus American society. It alludes to esoteric experiences while educating and informing the reader of more than the misconceived notions or what is often portrayed in the media. In particular, his multiple one-stanza poems titled “Mexican Heaven” describe the ideal “heaven”/utopia that consists of both Mexican and American culture. 

Cover of Jose Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal

Although Olivarez himself is not an immigrant, he is the son of immigrant parents, whose experiences outlines some of his poems. His work helps readers understand the untold experiences of Mexican immigrants that no one thinks twice about. Often, what is portrayed or misconceived of Mexican immigrants is that they “don’t contribute to society” or “they’re taking all our jobs” or, as President Trump has most recently described them, “drug dealers, rapists, and criminals”. Unfortunately, we believe or perpetuate these notions because these narratives are most often the only ones portrayed, making us unaware of their experiences. Given today’s political climate with our current president, Olivarez’s work engages readers to learn and understand true experiences told by someone who is knowledgeable about Mexicans immigrating into the U.S.  

Jose Olivarez’s collection of poems, Citizen Illegal, comprises poems that speak to things that are relatable to Mexican immigrants. While he has multiple poems titled “Mexican Heaven” in different sections of the book, the “Mexican Heaven” poem in the third section exemplifies Mexican women’s role in the Mexican community. The common misconception of Mexican immigrants is that the men are the hardworking one, while the women stay at home. Although I am not dismissing their effort, it is important to highlight the unofficial work Mexican women partake in. The poem is one stanza comprised of five lines and narrates common responsibilities:

all the Mexican women refuse to cook or clean

or raise the kids or pay the bills or make the bed or

drive your bum ass to work or do anything except

watch their novelas, so heaven is gross. The rats

are fat as roosters & the men die of starvation (Olivarez 31).

The word “or” separates the numerous tasks/responsibilities Mexican women have, even though they don’t work at an actual job. The repetition of the word “or” produces the effect of “never-ending”, that the responsibilities Mexican women have are infinite (could go on and on). This goes against the misconception and highlights the unnoticed work of Mexican women.

Additionally, in omitting commas to separate the tasks and using multiple “or”, the poem forces the readers to take their time in reading each task, reflecting the difficulty of each and realizing the domesticity of them. Implementing commas would make the list become fluid and rushed, not allowing for reflection and thought for each task. The repetition of “or” and the omission of commas showcases the jobs of Mexican women as, although domestic, still important. Important enough that the son of immigrant parents noticed as a kid growing up. It conveys that Mexican women are just as hardworking as men, and also contributes to society (misconception that they don’t) by implementing same actions as American women. Further, these devices highlight immigrant Mexican women’s roles and showcases one of the relatable “things” that other Mexican immigrants or children of Mexican immigrants can relate to.

 

B6.

 

Works Cited

Olivarez, Jose. Citizen Illegal. Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2018.

Race isn’t exclusive to the U.S.?

To be honest, I’m a huge fan of the word “multiculturalism” because it encompasses people of different cultures, rather than different races (which is solely based off of phenotypic characteristics). Different cultures in one country can lead to a range of discussion. In the book Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009), Daniel Goh and Philip Holden the pre- and post-colonial context of multiculturalism and its role in Malaysia and Singapore.

Goh and Holden challenge the idea of multiculturalism and question whether we can understand multiculturalism from a basis other than “terms and categories set by white colonialists” (3). They argue that because it is a Western concept, it is used as the grounds for multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. Multiculturalism is understood in juxtaposition to what white colonialist have defined it as. Additionally, they argue that the state apparatuses weave multiculturalism into the fabric of political and social life to the extent that they are seen as common sense (3). In weaving it into daily life, this understanding of multiculturalism thus becomes normalized, which is what Goh and Holden asks readers to challenge.

Something I found interesting was that the concept of race had the same purpose in Malaysia and Singapore as it does in the U.S. In the U.S., the concept of race is to categorize different groups of people. This categorization thus leads to a hierarchy of races, cultures, and ideas. In the reading, it seems like race is also used to for categorization in Malaysia and Singapore. This highlights that race is not just a concept in the U.S., but in other countries as well, and that it is a concept that is used to categorize bodies and generate a hierarchy. Because philosopher Charles Taylor argues that one should approach multiculturalism with equal value that we hold to our own identities, this proves that race in Malaysia and Singapore is manipulated towards some sort of ranking. One can’t argue against something that isn’t already there.

While multiculturalism encompasses different cultures, it is still derived from a white, settler colonialist ideology that different countries manipulate.

B5.

Works Cited

Goh, Daniel P.S. and Holden, Philip. Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore. New York, Routledge, 2009. 

Colorful Transitions in Vietnamerica

Cover of Vietnamerica graphic novel
What better way to tell your story than by the creative use of drawings, color, and free-flow structure? From the first few pages, G.B. Tran’s Vietnamerica (2010) emits layers of meanings through its structure, colors, form, and language. One of the noticeable structures is the many blank single-colored pages that act as a separator for different sections/eras of the novel. They have little to no other content on the page and function as a transition for different time periods (past and present).

The pages range in color from maroon, to white, to semi-pitch black, to bright blue, to dark navy blue, and to bright red. The maroon page comes before GB’s trip to Vietnam for his grandmother’s funeral. The white page comes after a portrait of Tran outlined in black with outlines of his parent in blue and red overlapping. The semi-pitch black page comes after the all-white page and appears before a section in which Tri’s family is forced to make the decision to move to a village outside of Mytho. The dark navy-blue page comes before the section that begins with GB packing his stuff in New York. The bright red pages come after a section where Tri is getting tortured for information.

This pattern of using different colored blank pages as transitions from past events to present day allows the readers to get a hint of the tone of the next section and gives reader a chance to read the next section with a blank slate (without thinking too much about previous information they were just given in prior sections). These blank pages remind me of clean slates, which is significant considering the narrative is bouncing back and forth from past and present. It allows readers to digest what they’ve just read and prepare for the next section. The choices of colors themselves also provide some sort of indication of the tone for the following section. For example, the dark navy blue page indicates that the tone of the next section is one of dreariness, routine, or lackluster.

In providing these plain, colorful blank pages, the graphic novel takes readers on a rollercoaster of an emotional narrative. They allow readers to empathize in some way with Tran’s experience, which gives the novel more meaning that just pictures and colors on a page.

 

Works Cited
Tran, Gia-Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010.

B4.

What’s in a Name?

How do we make our identities evident to those around us? One of the ways is through our name. My name, for example, Heidi, showcases my American identity while my last name, Kim, showcases my Asian identity. In Kamila Shamsie’s Homefire (2017), the Muslim and British identities intersect in Karamat Lone’s son’s name, Eammon. Eammon’s name showcases how the Muslim identity shadows the British identity, portraying the British identity as dominant.

Shamsie illustrates the intersection of British and Muslim identities through the character of Eammon, Karamat Lones’s son. In the first chapter told from Isma’s perspective, she notices a young Muslim man who looks like Home Secretary Karamat Lone, but soon finds out that the young man is his son, Eammon. Before approaching him, Isma’s thought process explains that Eammon’s name had been changed from “Ayman” to “Eammon” so people would understand that his father, Karamat, “had integrated” and further depict his father’s “integrationist posing” (Shamsie 16).

Shamsie’s use of the words “integrated” and “integrationist” implies that in order for the Muslim identity to be considered equal, it must be combined with the British identity. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines  “integration” as “incorporation as equals into society or an organization of individuals of different groups” (Merriam-Webster). Through Eammon’s name change and the context behind it, it depicts that the Muslim identity is one that is inferior and must be combined with the British identity in order for it to be considered equal. Additionally, it portrays the integration of the Muslim and British identities as a positive thing, rather than a negative thing for needing to adjust one’s personal identity to fit the confines of another.

In using the words “integration” and “integrationist” in consecutive sentences, it reiterates how important it is to identify more as British than Muslim. Using the word “integration” instead of the word “assimilation” indicates the combining of the two identities rather than the complete removal of one identity. If Shamsie had used the word “assimilation” instead of “integration”, it would then seem as if identifying as Muslim is unacceptable. In using the word “integration”, it depicts the adjusting of one’s identity rather than completely eradicating it.

Shamsie’s use of the words “integration” and “integrationist” is significant because it depicts how the changing or adjusting of one’s identity is evident through a generation and the importance of showcasing the combining of identities. It informs the reader of how the British identity is the identity that is the more outstanding than the Muslim identity.

 

Works Cited

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017

B3.

Is It Still History If It Reoccurs?

The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and the unjust acquittal of George Zimmerman would forever remain in history as the momentous incident that would spark the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its conversation about racism and systemic violence towards black people in America. Claudia Rankine’s poem “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin” in her collection, Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), portrays the emotion of a black individual detailing the position black Americans stand in, both historically and in modern day society.

In her poem, “February 26, 2012/In Memory of Trayvon Martin”, Rankine structures her sentence about the history of the black American as a continuous list, using multiple commas, to depict both the consistent history of violence towards black people and its ongoing presence in modern society. This is evident in the sentence,

“Those years of and before me and my brothers, the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities, profiling, of one in three, two jobs, boy, hey boy, each a felony, accumulate into the hours inside our lives where we are all caught hanging, the rope inside us, the tree inside us, its roots our limbs, a throat sliced through and when we open our mouth to speak, […]” (Rankine 90).

In incorporating a long and continuous sentence with multiple commas, it portrays to the reader just how long and the multiple discriminatory acts black people have had to deal with. The beginning part of the sentence, “[…] the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities […]”, reads like an ongoing list of the historical racism black people faced beginning with slavery and the racist aftermath. Additionally, this excerpt draws our attention to how this racism towards black people is not just one point in time, but it repeats over history. The list begins with “passage” and “plantation”, which signifies the start of unacceptable treatment towards black people, and continues with “Jim Crow segregation”, “poverty”, and “inner cities” to further exemplify that even after slavery, there was still poor treatment towards black people and it continues as evident through socio-economic status and affected neighborhood.

In reference of the Trayvon Martin poem, this excerpt that reads like a passage is significant because it is exemplifying that there is a long history of prejudice and racism towards black people, and yet society is still trying to portray them as the enemy. This poem allows reader to feel the continuity of unfortunate treatment black people have had to deal with and continue to deal with every day. Trayvon’s death is the crux of this poem because he was just a young black boy living his life, when George Zimmerman decided to implement his own prejudiced views and take his life away.

B2.

Works Cited

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen : An American Lyric. Minneapolis, Minnesota : Graywolf Press, [2014], 2014. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?                        direct=true&db=cat00326a&AN=dico.1363424&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Everyday Interactions of Whiteness

While the image above speaks for itself, I am here to merely stating my opinion in hopes to educate and inform a wider audience. As an American Studies major, I’ve read many texts that revolve around race. However, Ijeoma Oluo’s collection of essays in So You Want to Talk About Race, and John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika’s Scene on Radio: Seeing White podcasts are by far one of the more thought provoking texts that I’ve come across. Both texts discuss a great deal about whiteness and provide different perspectives.

In the John Biewen’s 2017 Turning the Lens episode of the Seeing White podcasts, co-host Chenjerai Kumanyika states that institutionalized whiteness is not exclusive to overt and explicit bigotry, and is evident in mundane situations and “just in the everyday – well here I go – everyday interactions”. Whiteness is not only prevalent in institutional structures, it is also transparent in our interactions with one another and with our surroundings. I thought this statement was revealing because we are quick to notice clear-cut forms of whiteness, but we never really stop to think about how it perpetrates at a micro-level through our daily interactions.

Ijeoma Oluo expresses that in everyday interactions, white people have privilege that people of color do not have, which is evident when she discusses how white individuals are “not regularly followed by store personnel and therefore would be unaware of the impact it would have on [a person of color]” (Oluo 16). There is an inherit privilege if you are white, and that this privilege allows white people to go through out their day. This was compelling specifically because of the word “regularly”. Using the word “regularly” is significant as it indicates that this is an esoteric and repeated experience that POC face.

The excerpt from Oluo is an example of the “everyday interactions” Kumanyika discusses. I thought these two ideas were interesting because they reflect each other in the sense of cause and effect. It is interactions like a POC “regularly being followed” that uphold whiteness in society; white privilege allows these kinds of interactions. Even though it may not be at an institutional level, small exchanges like Oluo’s are what many people of color confront and what many individuals fail to acknowledge.

Structural or not, white privilege allows for whiteness in everyday interactions. Whiteness in everyday interactions reinforce the idea that whiteness is explicit at both the structural/institutional and at the mundane level of our own interactions.

 

Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk about Race. New York, NY : Seal Press, 2018., 2018. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00326a&AN=dico.1767489&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Biewen, John, host. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White, Scene on Radio, 15 Feb 2017. http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-31-turning-the-lens-seeing-white-part-1/

  B1.