If you’ve ever seen me, you might have mistaken me for a white guy.
I’m not. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t benefited from the way I appear.
For the record, I’m almost 100% Lebanese. Olive skinned, albeit on the light side.
The US census doesn’t even have an option for Middle Eastern people. We’re just lumped into “white”. (click for this related LA Times article)
It’s both a curse and a blessing. On one hand, it means we’re not counted, and our heritage doesn’t count. On the other hand, we get some, if not all, of the “white privilege” that comes with the whitewashed title. If a cop pulls me over, my biggest worry is having to pay a ticket… not whether I’ll survive the encounter.
Growing up, my family were the dark people on the block. It was a mostly Polish neighborhood, so we kind of stuck out. My father and brother had darker skin than I did. But I was often chided about my school lunch (“Are you eating cigars” – no… they’re stuffed grape leaves; “What’s that glop?” – it’s lentils and rice) Occasionally, I was called racially based names if someone knew my family was Middle Eastern.
Still, for me, that was normal. I learned to ignore the comments. Or come back with jabs of my own. That’s how I adapted. But, others who look “less white” have a much harder road to travel. I know this for a fact because my wife is of Asian descent, and she is a lawyer. Based solely on our appearances, people have assumed that I am the lawyer and she is the actor. More often than not, she is treated differently than I am – could be a race, male/female, or a combo platter thing, but the observable differences in treatment are pronounced enough that I’ve taken note.
Based on my childhood and my observations, I have some thoughts and feelings about this.
I find myself torn when issues of race or gender discrimination come up. Do I say I understand? Or is it assumed that because I look white I don’t have a clue? Am I allowed to opine on relevant issues like casting actors in roles that aren’t a perfect match for their race? Or is that out-of-bounds because I’m not “one of them”?
In the end, I don’t have “the answer”. But then, nobody really does. However, our opinions should all matter. We should be able to at least have a civil conversation about topics like race and gender without being thrown into a category, along with all the assumptions that go along with it. After all, isn’t that the heart of racism and sexism?
I truly hope we find our way to a place where none of these distinctions matter. Where we can all just be who we are – and more importantly, be kind and decent human beings.
Be good to each other,
All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com