The thing about white privilege is that I can oftentimes forget that it’s there.
Of course, that’s a privilege in itself.
Being ignorant to the ways in which my race interacts with society and vice versa isn’t a privilege many can claim to have.
It hits in obscure moments, when I’m not paying attention.
And then I can’t look away.
The advertisements, products in stores, the large billboards scattered around Quito. All with white faces staring back at me, while the population of white citizens in Quito is minuscule.
Why don’t these advertisements, which are burned into the back of our eyes day after day without conscious realization, reflect the skin color of the actual population here in Quito?
Why must we shove whiteness down the throats of every person who walks these streets who glance up at the gigantic billboards?
These billboards which are in your face. To be seen.
To be absorbed.
This is sending a message. That white people are the majority. That white people own the media, buy the products, sell the products.
That you should strive to be like these happy while folk, smiling down upon you day after day.
Oftentimes I forget.
I see a white woman staring back at me each morning in the mirror. A white billboard or product isn’t unusual to me, as I’ve been surrounded with a high population of white people during most of my life.
But here in Quito, where I maybe see one or two strangers who are white every few days, this prevalence of white advertisements shakes me.
This isn’t a message that children should absorb as they walk the streets of Quito. As they play in the park. Eat ice cream with their family.
I shouldn’t be placed upon a pedestal because of my skin. Gawked at. Given “complements” which only succeed in annoying and oftentimes scaring me.
When I go out on the weekends, casually strolling among streets chocked full of bars and clubs, I shouldn’t be hunted down by every promoter.
“Free drink!” They yell as they see my white skin, feminine figure, and blonde hair.
“Free club entrance! Venga aquí! Venga!”
Because of the presumption that the presence of my friends and I in a club will draw in more customers.
Because of our intersections of white skin and female gender.
I’ll admit that this all seems harmless at first glance.
But it’s the deeper seeded message I’m observing.
That white skin calls for some sense of superiority I’ve neither asked for nor deserve.
That my intersection of gender and skin means I am attractive to others, that I will draw people in, that I am a valid target of seemingly harmless machismo “compliments”.
It’s not fair, to anyone.
Not fair to the Latino citizens of Ecuador who are conditioned to believe that I automatically have some sense of power or wealth because of my skin color, while they do not.
Not fair to my friends and I who are often targets of machismo because of our assumed attractiveness to society. That we are targets of theft because our white skin reflects a wealth which we do not have.
Not fair that this racial hierarchy is global. That for some reason light skin was chosen over dark. That there’s strong and resilient human rights and anti-racism movements, but there’s so much more work to be done.
Because just as machismo is rooted deep into the language and society of Latin America, racism and racial hierarchies are cemented deep beneath the surface of the globe.
My attempts at counteracting this unfair assumption of superiority isn’t much, but it’s a start.
I start with talking.
To my taxi drivers. To strangers on the bus. To friends and family members who do not recognize their white privilege and the ways in which they have an automatic (unfair) advantage over others of different races in spheres such as the jobs they can obtain, how society perceives them, how teachers and peers treat them, etc.
I do not know how to stop this.
I do not know how to stop racial discrimination. How to make a meaningful impact so that this hierarchy, which we are all involuntarily a part of, is dismantled.
I think all I can do right now is to notice first. And then to talk. To make race a part of the conversation. To question any embedded assumptions about race we have. To catch ourselves in prejudiced thoughts or actions.
As a white woman, I oftentimes feel that I am contributing to racism just by being white.
But I think it’s time to take a step back from that. To realize that no matter who we are, the color of our skin was not our choice. It is not something we can change.
But it is something we can talk about. Something we can push others to talk about.
And I think that’s how we start.