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  • Rebecca Hicken

Growing Up White


The only thing I knew about my identity growing up was that everyone asked if I was adopted and mom called me "pretty girl." DNA is a funny thing and while I believed my sisters half the time when they teased me about being adopted, the truth is I'm a quarter Mexican, the same as my siblings.


I never thought about my skin color being a privilege until it became a conversation topic online. Over the years I listened to the debates and wondered how to better reflect on issues of racism and identify my own privileges better. At some point, my thoughts turned more personal and I asked myself if being white made a difference between me and my siblings. After all, we grew up in the same house, shared the same socioeconomic status, and dealt with the same big life issues throughout our childhood. And then I remembered our mom always calling me her "pretty girl."


When I was thirteen years old I was overweight (and thought baggy clothes were the answer), wore glasses, and had crooked teeth. My sister, thin, with beautiful hair, better teeth, and always dressed to impress looked at me once and said, "You're so pretty." I was dumbfounded. She was gorgeous and I was going through my awkward phase (to be repeated several more times). And she thought I was the pretty one?





It never made sense until I started reflecting on my privileges as a white adult.


My sister and I had plenty of differences. The piano came more naturally to me, she was better at tennis, and we both loved to sing. And that's all I know for sure. We had different school experiences, made different life choices, and while we're both considered functioning members of society I'll never know how much of my experiences stemmed from being mom's "pretty girl" and her having darker skin.


I do know that growing up I was the golden child who could do no wrong. The one my mother protected the most. The one who egged my sisters on until they got in trouble (sorry!). Maybe that's because I was the baby of the family for most of my childhood, or maybe it's because of my skin color. I don't know. I do know that I wish my sister knew how beautiful she was. That all of us felt equally valued and cherished. And I hope my sisters see themselves as the good, successful, beautiful people that they are.



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