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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Jade Merrihue

My journey with my race.

I moved to Florida for university from London.

It was the first time I had ever lived in the states.

I had never seen racism, not like the kind that exists in the USA, not like the kind in Florida.

I quickly came across it.

People making jokes.

Dead baby jokes, sexist jokes, rape jokes, racist jokes, - against Blacks, against Latinos, against every possible race or identity other than white.

It seemed to be - the more fucked up the better.

Especially in sororities and fraternities.

I didn’t understand and it made me angry.

The jokes weren’t funny.

They were gross.

I didn’t understand the racial stereotypes so every “joke” that came out of a person, just came off to me as disgusting and for what it was: racist, bigotry.

People who were my friends would tease me about being Latina. They would tell me to go pick the weeds, lovingly.

I was very confused about why they would laugh after because:

Didn't they remember I was born in Ecuador?

I lived in different countries in South America my entire childhood. So at first, I thought this was a compliment. Latin women are beautiful and powerful.

It took a WHILE before I finally asked what the hell they meant by it.

Then they tried to explain the racist joke while Lovingly laughing.

And I sat there, completely confused and baffled.

I did not react.

Except to internally churn and feel nauseous and confused at my friendships.

It was so confusing to find out that people I cared about were making fun of my heritage, to my face, and that they believed it was just teasing.

I didn’t leave though.

I didn’t get loudly angry and say “that’s so fucked up”, I didn’t tell them to stop.

I would just silently withdraw.

Sometimes leave the premises and try and go understand how I was supposed to understand this. Respond to this.

Was I?

Wasn’t it easier just to laugh along in this strange country until I fully understood what was happening?

Not call a lot of attention to my utter discomfort and disgust?

Eventually, people backed off because of how proud I was of my heritage.

I made friends with other Europeans who also didn’t spend their time making fun of other races.

But I still dated Americans, some in fraternities where I was CONSTANTLY confronted with racist jokes (about other races), sexiest jokes, rape jokes…and more.

The “jokes” made me angry.

Sometimes, I would tear up, not understanding how these people I cared about could be making fun of such cruel, violent, and disgusting themes, and of other people.

I felt frozen and shocked whenever it came up.

I would be clearly affected by it- people would tell me to relax.

They would make racist Black jokes even when their Black fraternity brothers were in the room.

They too would laugh along or make the racist jokes themselves.

No one seemed shocked or angry, like me, it seemed, though now I'm sure the must've been frozen or worse, used to it.

When I would bring it up to my boyfriend or friends, I was told to not take life so seriously, to stop making such a big deal of things, to calm down, to not be so dramatic, to take a joke.

In my early college years, some of my friends would get furious with me because I would start heated debates with people at parties.

I would engage people on these themes trying to understand what was at the root of the jokes, or racism, or the other themes that were so uncomfortably LOUD to me- that others seemed not to even notice.

Most people were actually quite eager to share, to talk about this stuff, to actually NAME this fucking madness and question it with me.

But others just wanted to party and didn’t want me to bring up such heavy subjects. They would get annoyed at how inconvenient my anger was at this subject.

Which made me more angry and confused.

So I decided to study sociology- maybe then I could understand better.

I had to buy the 11th edition of a social problems textbook. I'd like to point out... someone had time to write 11 editions of the same social problems.

ELEVEN. I digress.

It seemed the only other person as OUTRAGED at the outrageous things I was seeing in the social scene, in the textbooks, on the news, was my teacher. But he was so intense that most just spaced out and called him crazy.

And even in the class, no one seemed outraged or surprised. Each chapter that was heartbreaking to me was just old news to people raised in the states.

Eventually, I learned to laugh off the stupid jokes about my race.

I learned to politely smile through the disgust when strangers, friends, friends of friends, friends of the guys I was dating, would sexualize my being Latin.

I learned to not make it a big deal and try and move past it as soon as it came up.

I assume the other races did this as well because no one was talking about race openly. No one was complaining or fighting back.

I learned, in my own way, to do the same. Because it was easier.

If I wanted to, I could not think about nor talk about race.

I have the OPTION to check out, to not deal with it.

Even though my friends thought it was okay to make racist comments at me.

It was still done through loving eyes because they could make fun of my race AND brush it off because I still looked white.

So I was privileged to be able to wear my Latin blood electively or hide it.

To not have to think about or deal with race if I don’t want to.

I'm still VERY slowly doing the work to peel apart and understand all the different perspectives on race all over the world and how they may or may not apply to me and the world as I understand it.

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