Growing up in my hometown of El Paso, Texas, I constantly saw faces that looked like mine. Brown faces. My city is 80% Latino and as the population grows to a million, you start to become accustomed to seeing people that look like you, share the same culture as you, and have similar upbringings as you had. Though I grew up in the hood called ‘the Lower Valley’ (where you can see the border and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico), I now am able to look back and have such an appreciation for the culture that infiltrated my childhood, that brings so many happy memories and really molded me into the person I am today.
So fast-forward to my current professional life and career in Houston, Texas, one of the biggest and most diverse cities in the country. The cultural comforts that I had as a kid back home are no longer a part of my life. There are no longer familiar customs and heritage that I had come to know. I am now the minority in my field. I am not surrounded by brown faces that I had come to know and appreciate; and as a matter of fact, I am now the rare brown face in a sea of white.
As a kid I was chastised for my dark skin. As the darkest in my family, that treatment had some impact on my psyche.Yet nothing prepared me for being one of the only mental health providers at my place of employment who feels marginalized in more ways than one.
I am Latinx and Native American, and I am also a gay man. Many of my counterparts had never had exposure to Latinx customs and culture, nor had they previously worked with someone who is gay. I was happy to dispel many rumors that my colleagues held as truths in regard to both Latinx and gay culture. This at times made for a few good laughs, and shed light on the multi-faceted beauty that it is to be both a person of color and a sexual minority.
But on the other hand, I have met other counselors who have not had the same types of obstacles as I had due to the fact that they can pass as “white” or “normal” despite being people of color. I have had to work that much harder to prove to myself and others that I have the same academic and professional letters after my name as they do. I have had to work harder to prove that I am worthy of the same respect as anyone else in our profession. There have been times where a client would question my credentials upon seeing me and my dark skin for the first time. But would they have asked my white and lighter-skinned counterparts the same question upon first meeting them?
We grow up in this culture learning to stigmatize one another because of the color of our skin. We completely disregard character, substance, and the person as a whole. What is even more heartbreaking to me is how we will judge even our own family members and communities based on color and demonize them as not being a whole person, or we’ll see them as inferior because they are darker skinned.
When I got teased by my family members, or by people of my own community, I had to step back and ask myself why they were doing such things. As I grow older and wiser, and as I have learned through my work, it is the innate insecurities of those repressors that cause them to make others feel inferior. That is, those with lighter skin will degrade and demean those with darker skin in order to empower their own light-skinned selves.
The constant traditional media coverage (and even social media) that inundate our lives 24/7 are no help to this crisis. As people of color, we must come together and appreciate the beauty that it is to be any shade of brown or Black that exists, and any shade in between and beyond. I can say with all honesty that I love my skin, and I am damn proud to be a person of color. I admit it did not always feel that way. But I am a person of color, and I will continue to fight the good fight that will see to an end where we are all equal, both to our own families and communities, and by outsiders who will know that I am an equal to be reckoned with. Not in spite of but because of my dark brown skin, I will take my place at the table.
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