My friend Blue and me on the Corner
I grew up in a majority white neighborhood. I didn't get out much either. I didn't really have a need to—everything that I needed, from food to shopping to friends to school, was all in just a couple of square miles.
I didn't have the privilege of having friends of other ethnicities as a kid. To me, that was normal, and it was surprising to enter the world and realize that there were people who were not like me. When I went to college in North Carolina, I began realizing that not everyone was like me, but even then I did not have any significant friendships with someone of a different race or ethnic origin.
My first longer term, significant friendship with someone who was not white started a little over a year ago. Then, of course, came the Corner and South Dallas, where I have gotten to know many people who grew up differently from me.
Honestly, at first, I did not even think about ethnicity with my friend. She is Latina, and from her I have been learning about what it meant to grow up differently from the way I grew up.
Until talking to her, I never considered how standards of beauty are primarily white. That is the main messaging of our culture. Can you imagine what it would be like to grow up of a different race or ethnicity and only see beauty portrayed as white?
My friend and I talked about hair recently. I have never thought about the impact hair can have on a person’s life, but she explained that the more blond, more straight, and more fine your hair, the more successful and attractive you are deemed. People with blonder, straighter, finer hair automatically are taken more seriously and, for instance, are more likely to secure a job in an interview.
I think what hit me most about this conversation is that hair is something I have never thought about. Furthermore, my race is something I have rarely considered. Probably because it has never been a hindrance to me, at least as much as I can tell. What if that weren’t the case, and I knew I was in the minority culture, and was treated differently simply because of how I looked, something neither I nor anyone has any control over or say in.
Do any of us pick our parents? Do we choose what our face looks like? Which of us got to pick our hair color or skin color or eye color?
And even though we can alter our appearance—through dying hair, tanning, and even plastic surgery—fundamentally, we have little control over how we look, and what sorts of opportunities our appearance does or does not afford us.
So tell me, how can we judge another person on the basis of their nose shape, or their skin color, or the size of their feet? We cannot even judge ourselves (though we do), for we did not choose any of the most basic features we have.
When we see life this way, the playing field gets a little more level, at least in our minds. And then, it affects how we treat others. It starts with embracing ourselves, and as we love and accept ourselves, we really are more able to love others rather than judging them, and even to reach across “party” lines to learn more about other people, and even, sometimes, become their friends.