by Jasmine Pulido
I didn’t know I was marginalized.
And that’s part of my privilege.
Marginalized. Privileged. I didn’t feel the weight of these terms until I started digging into racial equity at my daughter’s predominantly-white school a few years ago. As leader of their “Diversity Committee”, I felt pressure to be knowledgeable about the language around social justice and my own experience as a person of color. I took on the position not because of any particular personal experience or profound perspective, but simply because no one else stepped forward.
The truth is I didn’t feel like I was a person of color. Not really. My inceptive purpose stemmed from wanting to help those most affected by explicit racism. Sure, maybe a white teacher mixed me up with another Asian-American mom but my Filipino-American kids were not at higher risk of getting shot by the police or incarcerated because of their skin color. My bouts with racism seemed relatively inconsequential.
The truth is I didn’t feel oppressed. Not at all. On the contrary, I inhabited a large amount of white-adjacent privilege as an Asian American living in Seattle the last 12 years. I lived in Magnolia, a predominantly-white neighborhood that was clean, quiet, and low in crime. I worked an incredibly flexible schedule privately serving majority-white clients in and around Ballard. Most of my friends were white but that was okay because I connected with a handful of Asian-American moms and that was enough.
And then I learned about implicit racism.
The truly troubling part: I couldn’t see it. It took my attending workshops to learn more about race, racism and white privilege for the truths to irreversibly unravel. I was assimilated into whiteness, making it incredibly difficult to speak about my marginalization. In this state of bare self-recognition, I sought further knowledge.
As I learned the language and concepts behind race and privilege, I started to decode past interactions for the first time. All of the aggressive niceness, subtle dismissals, countless interruptions and re-directions, awkward silences, and predatory listening now made sense and manifested in a visceral feeling screaming itself into existence.
I was really fucking oppressed.
My experience was so normalized in our culture that I questioned myself instead. I was spoon-fed unassuming doses of oppression with an undetected toxicity building dominance in me over time. The compounded poison had compromised my system, bloomed into a full-blown internalized Imposter Syndrome, an essential part of my inheritance as a Womxn of Color existing in white supremacy.
Suddenly, I saw how truly invisible I was in the sea of whiteness. I needed the antidote to this rage, a place to simply be without a need to explain the nature of my own existence, so I started spending more time in the South End. I visited friends and attended BIPOC-centered events that talked about race, racism, and healing, in Beacon Hill, Rainier Beach, and Columbia City.
What I found surprised me: I still felt uncomfortable here.
I knew that if I broke down in tears while talking about my racialized experience in these places, it would be received with a genuine response. That scared me.
Because I knew the response would be real.
It wouldn’t be a placating pity nor a cue to intellectualize my feelings like in white spaces. It would be someone really seeing me, someone looking me in the eyes saying they believed me and that I mattered. I had become so used to being unseen, I didn’t know how to be seen anymore. White people were the people I knew and this diverse crowd had become strangers.
At a talk with Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams in Columbia City, I sat in the back of the room and doodled nervously into a notebook, purposely averting eye contact. She asked us to sit in a circle and share a small truth we had never shared before. I dreaded my turn, cried sharing my raw truth. I absolutely hated it. Because in a room full of BIPOC, a default “be strong” narrative kicked up in me. Growing up in my Filipinx household, vulnerability among each other was absolutely not allowed. This ingrained belief demanded overt emotional strength at all times. Tears were the manifestation of weakness and crying in that circle felt like an emotional violation. In this space, I was choosing to marginalize myself.
I came upon this unsettling feeling in each South End event I attended, despite how intentionally open they were to me, my racial trauma, and my healing. This self-inflicted marginalization, this internalized oppression, was holding me back from truly connecting to the people I needed to be with most.
The other night I attended a QTBIPOC open house by Alphabet Alliance of Color right in the middle of Seattle. They intentionally held it at City Hall to occupy a space that wasn’t built with people like us in mind. In this diverse collaboration of folks who housed radical ways of Being despite the trauma that tried to tear down their humanity, I started to understand, in this deliberate communion, the truth I was searching for these last few years. I watched Randy Ford dance a choreographed excerpt from Black Bois and found it was about finding a home in transition, sifting through the gradients of our fluid perception of self. It was about making a place where there was none, demanding a Radical Belonging for ourselves instead of waiting for it to be handed to us, and as the movements flowed on, my seat felt slightly more comfortable beneath me.
It is about self-acceptance. It is giving ourselves permission to be, in whatever form, state, or place without a need to define or categorize– in our tears and discomfort, in our struggle with internal and external oppression, in our joy and dance for freedom, in our insistence to find the truth seeded within our post-traumatic growth. At any moment. In every moment.