#brown: why my skin color is more than just a color

For years, I’ve struggled with my brownness. In high school, playing tennis after school led to some pretty serious tans, both on the arms and around the socks. I was brown, very brown. I even used to say I was “golden-colored”. I loved playing tennis and I found a sport that I was actually good, maybe even great at. And I was teased constantly because of how dark I became after spending several hours playing under the California sun. I would ask myself, “Why is everybody baggin’ on me for actually doing something that I enjoyed? Being dark just shows how committed I am to the sport, right?” Still today, I hear people occasionally say “tennis dark” to reference my past skin color and it just never sits right with me.

While in high school, I would have to deal with comments and remarks from close family members and friends about how dark I was and how brown I looked. Sometimes, upon first entering a room, I would get comments about being so brown and so tanned rather than receiving a simple “hello”. Back then, I never knew about microaggressions and how emotionally damaging and psychologically taxing these racial slurs were on people of color like myself. And without any guidance or mentors to help me through these feelings, I felt lost, isolated, and different — I mean, really, how many people of color were playing tennis professionally at the time (not to mention the culture of high school masculinity back then)?

When I got to college, I began to embrace my identity as a Pilipino American and the various shades of brown that I was exposed to. Joining the Pilipino Academic Student Services and the bridges multicultural community was an absolute blessing and formative experience throughout my undergraduate career — you can read more about my involvements with these here. Since coming to graduate school and readily working my way to becoming an awesome educator and student affairs professional, I am empowered by the beauty of my own skin: the way the black ink from my tattoos permanently settles onto my body, the physical sensation of being sun-kissed by Mother Nature herself. However, just because I am empowered and see value in my own skin color does not make it any easier being a person of color in the state of Vermont. It is still a struggle. It is still an uphill battle. It is still exhausting.

And so, with each opportunity I get, I try and remind myself how beautiful the color of my skin truly is. After starting my television series binge with Empire and after reading “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum, I am also reminded of the power and responsibility that comes with talking to our children about race & racism. I wished somebody had told me early on that brown was (and still is) beautiful. That brown could be a medium for self-expression, resistance, and activism. That the color of my skin could put me in harm’s way, make me feel vulnerable and unwanted at times. That the way I look and feel & act in this world would be watched and criticized by my White counterparts. That this brown color came with its own set of Pilipino culture, history, & responsibility to be a catalyst for radical change & radical love.

Brown is undeniably beautiful. And I tell myself that every single day. But it’s not the “me’s” that I’m currently worried about. It’s the people who are put in positions of privilege and responsibility who take advantage of my community and the law. It’s those same individuals who have the power, influence, and authority to mistreat the underrepresented. I am afraid of the unfortunate possibility (and for some, reality) that our younger children come into this world thinking White is the norm, White means success, White means beauty. I’m worried that we’re not telling our children (enough) that the brown and black colors of their skin are just as beautiful, just as powerful, and just as meaningful. So when I have kids I will tell them to always be aware, alert, and ready, for being a person of color in today’s society still comes with its fair share of challenges, hateful actions and racial slurs, and “golden-colored” microaggressions. But I will also let them know that their brownness embodies various forms of beauty, culture, life, love, history, passion, and the power to truly make the world a kinder tomorrow.

Brown is more than just the color of my skin. It is who I am, what I choose to fight for, where I decide to live and be freely, when I speak up and stay silent, why I care so much about my own self worth and the beauty of others, and it dictates how exactly I choose to live my life the best way that I can. This is why my skin color matters.


The Pressure of Being an (Educated) Person of Color (POC)

A friend/classmate and I recently had a discussion about the cultural appropriation behind The Color Run and the need to say something about it to other classmates. I’ve taken several personality tests and know myself pretty well to say that I do my best to avoid conflict. I have a tendency to stay reserved and let some folks do the talking while I do my role as a support system. So I thought: maybe they can learn “the hard way” and have a realization of how an event like this perpetuates cycles of colonialism and appropriation; is this something I really need to “call them out” on? However, after talking to my friend/classmate even further, I had my own realization: I can’t expect people to learn and change on their own. I can’t let them use “I didn’t know” as an excuse for being “ignorant*”. I can’t wait for them to understand their mistakes and hope they change a little later down the road. Being an educated person of color means I have a responsibility to my community and my identities. My goal is not to serve as a spokesperson for the multiple identities I claim, but to call out the bullshit and stupidity that arises from ignorant behaviors and actions when I see them.

The line becomes difficult to tread at a certain point, however. As a POC, by calling things out, we may become labeled as “the angry b*tch”, “the loud brown person”, “the super political pilipino”, etc. We may not even be listened to because we’re “brown and poorly educated” so what is there for us to really say. I find it difficult to assert myself in classroom discussions and the professional realm because of the identities that I hold and my fear of challenging others and creating enemies. But I do have to realize my privilege in all of this. I am an educated queer, Pilipino-American. I have the privilege to speak up and out when discriminatory/unethical notions get brought up. I can be a force for social change and justice and I cannot be scared to use this tool.

Now, going into graduate school, I knew this was a part of me that I wanted to work on. I wanted to learn how to tastefully call out politically hurtful and unwanted behavior/statements, and walk away from the discussion still feeling confident and supported in my identity and struggle. And by the end of these two years, I am going to master that ability. I will. I promise you.


*The usage of the word ignorant is meant in general for individuals that are completely oblivious to the political correctness in POC struggles & experience (and not in reference to the classmates that I’m directly speaking about)

Note: this is a slightly unfinished post, so I apologize for grammatical errors, unlinked sentences/thoughts, and overtly-generalized statements. I just wanted to write this and have it published in the meantime.

What Being Gay Has to do with the Winter Olympics

Absolutely nothing. The Winter Olympics has been about camaraderie, unity, competition, pressure, support, peace, empowerment, and solidarity. I think Google said it best: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” –Olympic Charter . As the Black Eyed Peas would say, where is the love?

Despite Russia’s own internal political struggle, you can check out the streaming of the events here, but the Opening Ceremony which is taking place tonight (Friday 02/07/14), will not be available for Live Streaming, at least according to Yahoo.

I’m looking forward to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and I think everyone else should be too. Although I think it still casts shadows of privilege on folks that can afford to gather around their televisions under a warm roof to watch the opening ceremonies and activities, it is amazing to see these individuals perform their talents and artistic ability under high-pressured circumstances, especially when we see people of color entering the ring (or should I say rink?). They trained their whole life to be part of these competitions and for that, I applaud them.

Also, just take a look at the 12 new sporting events that are taking place this year in Sochi! How does this not make your heart pound with anticipation (or palpitations? Whichever you prefer!)?

At least I know there are other countries (and companies) that are in support of homosexuality and our queer (and quite fabulous) lifestyles. And Canada, Oh Canada, you have some audacity to post an ad like the one you did. I am equally grateful and even excited (in the less PG-13 sense) to have such huge support for gay individuals, and more specifically, gay athletes. Now, if only we had more representation on the media of gay people of color (that don’t act like a spokesperson for me and my community), that would be a great accomplishment. It would be just as nice to have support from other countries and within our states to take action for LGBTQ rights without having an International event be the lead catalyst for all of this lovin’. Just some thoughts.

I hope I am not offending others by trivializing the support and progress that the LGBTQ movement has produced thus far, but we are ways away from equal representation and treatment. I am extremely grateful to have figures in the media willing to represent their identity and who they are because without them, the world would be way less understanding and accepting. However, like I said, we still got some work to do.

In a nutshell, I guess the being gay has way more to do with the Winter Olympics than we realized. It’s another moment in history where underrepresented individuals are ridiculed and scorned. So, forgive me, for saying that being gay has nothing to do with the Olympics. It DOES. And it always will. I’m just waiting for the day where it doesn’t have to become an issue of awareness or acceptance. Hopefully by then, we can all just be the competitive BAMFs watching the real BAMFs duke it out for an honor of a lifetime.

Lastly, to end off on another note of positive sexual identity and the struggles that come with it, please check out my own YouTube video and Spoken Word Performance regarding what it’s like (for me) being a queer student of color in an academic setting. Enjoy!

Leadership, Goals, and Motivation

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure to be invited as one of six leadership facilitators for the UCLA LeaderShape Retreat in March. It is a week long retreat that works with sixty undergraduate students and helps develop their identity, philosophy, and experience around notions of leadership. Given my undergraduate experiences, I have always been fond and interested in student development, particularly notions regarding identity, privilege, empowerment, and engagement. I was thrilled and grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of such a transformative process, especially because I know how powerful (mini) retreats can be.

As I celebrated my own excitement, I also started to “retreat” inwards and come towards a reflective spot within my elated news. What is leadership? Or is it Leadership? Why did staff from the University of California, Los Angeles, believe I was capable of leading such an emotional process? What have I done that showed that I was capable of understanding, demonstrating, and educating individuals on leadership and the dynamics and power structures that come to play? I only have a bachelor’s degree, is that good enough? What could I possibly tell these students given that I’m only 23 that would motivate them to be a “leader” in their own community?

It is this mentality that I strive to work away from. If others have seen my potential, then surely I must have it. And if I see the same kind of potential in these sixty students, then surely they can do it as well. Why do we cast doubt on our own abilities? Why is there a need to question our limits? What in society has caused us to dismiss the trust in our own identities and experiences? Maybe it’s because I’m brown. Maybe it’s because I’m queer. Maybe it’s because I’m a queer, Pilipino-American that has faced scorn and ridicule from society, parents, and adult figures that make me weary of trusting “the system”. Because it is always this system that we are trying to impress, but it is this same system that will never fully understand us for who we are and what we are able to offer.

I think I am one of the lucky ones. I believe I’m lucky because I have goals and because I am motivated to achieve those goals. my family upbringing and my social/political context has forced me to crave and shape my independence into success and (self) exploration. I want to get somewhere. I want to be something. And not because it will bring me fame, glory, money, or attention. But because it’s the best way I know how to make a difference, provide some practical support to ailing students of color, and to give back to a community that has motivated me to be this administrative figure. I think goals are important. But I think having the motivation to carry through with these goals is equally as important.

Always ask the question why and who are you doing this for. Sometimes it’s okay to do things for yourself. But it’s also okay to do things to help others