Sunday, April 10, 2016

Foreign But Not Too Foreign

My ancestors were foreign but not too foreign. They were foreign enough to come over on a ship but not foreign enough to clean the ship. My grandma, seasick, couldn't make it to the toilet and vomited on the stairs, summoning the first black person she had ever seen.

My ancestors 'legally' immigrated to the US during a period when immigration from Asia, South and Central America and Africa was severely restricted. They gained a foothold in this country by owning land taken from Native Americans. A privilege denied black Americans, Chinese and Mexican immigrants. They worked in trades people of color were systemically excluded from and they consolidated these gains through economic opportunities like home, auto and college loans and access to good infrastructure and schools in racially segregated neighborhoods.

The playing field was never level. My family's economic successes are historically derived through acts of conquest, enslavement and exploitation. I've had family members argue earnestly that growing up on a modest dairy farm (it was loads of hard work they point out), qualified them as poor and deprived. But people often confuse this.... the difference between "land rich" and "cash poor."

No family rich in land is poor. No family rich in white racial privilege is deprived. Quite the opposite.