“God made me white for a reason.”
She said it as I was sipping chai, as we discussed relationships and cultures and the difficulties of listening to people’s stories instead of fixing them. She’s an old friend who works with university students on a mostly-Latino campus, a blue-eyed white girl who grew up on the Mexican border, who looks, perhaps, German, but feels most comfortable around Hispanics.
It would’ve been easier if God had made her brown instead of white, if she hadn’t been a different colour in a town where whites are the marginalised minority. It would be easier if she matched the students she loves, if her affinity for Latinos were visibly explicable at a glance.
It would’ve been easier if God had made me brown, too.
As a child, with no conception of the difficulties minorities face, with the naïve innocence of a sheltered and privileged middle-class white girl, I knew before I was old enough to read that I wished my skin were something darker.
As a white girl growing up in Panama, I desperately wished to look more like everyone else, to stop the old ladies staring on the streets, the teenagers proudly airing their English in the form of catcalls, the girls at camp pointing to my untanned stomach and expounding on how white I was.
As a university student, discussing racial reconciliation, minority issues, and social justice, I developed yet a deeper awareness of my skin colour. The more I learned about systematic injustice, the more I longed to be free of the incriminating whiteness that put me in the “privileged” category and removed me from the struggles of those around me.
My desire to be a different colour changed from an adolescent’s wish to fit in to a young adult’s guilt over society’s wrongs.
Being white became an incurable flaw. I felt that by being white I somehow lost my right to an opinion, lost my ability to empathise, lost whatever it is that allows people to be grateful for their blessings without apologising for them.
I did not choose to be white, but I chose to regret it.
And now here sat my friend, sure that God had made her white for a reason.
And there I sat, accepting the idea, yet fighting back against the logic that said if she were white for a reason, so must I be. And the idea would not leave me. A reason—what reason?
Maybe I’m white to give a voice to the voiceless—to speak for the underprivileged in a society where my privilege lets me be heard.
Maybe I’m white to teach my soul humility—to learn to be gracious with myself and others when so much of our identity is involuntary and immutable.
Maybe I’m white to instil empathy in my heart—to help me see the perspectives of those around me and share their causes when I have nothing to gain.
…days later, I have a dozen potential reasons and no solid conclusions, and maybe that’s the way it should be.
There could be a hundred reasons or none, and in the end, perhaps it all boils down to this: That each of us should live a life dedicated to loving, supporting, and serving others, no matter our skin colour—that each of us is in some way privileged and in some way lacking—that we should fight injustice, right wrongs, and embrace differences—that as we face ourselves honestly, we must acknowledge what we are, but never apologise for it.
And for whatever reason, what I am is white.