On Race

I grew up in Detroit less than a mile from where Eminem lived. I didn’t know him, but Eminem and I grew up as minorities. At the time, Detroit was over 70% black. Of the remaining 30%, white was maybe around 10-15%. Of that 10-15%, a lot of them were Polish. I am not Polish, so I was a minority even inside the white minority.

I told a friend that I grew up as a minority and we had the strangest conversation about race. She is Filipino and she grew up in a predominantly Filipino neighborhood. It is unusual when you think that I, the white person, grew up as a minority, and she, the Filipino, was a majority. That’s not usually how race works in America. Or, at least, that’s not how it worked most places when we both were growing up.

My formative experience with race was different than a lot of white people’s formative experience with race. I’ve encountered white people who never met a person of color until they went to college or became an adult. I can’t even fathom that. My best friend in elementary school was Vietnamese. My other friends were black. To this day, being anywhere with all white people makes me twitchy.

So, yeah, my childhood perspective on race is a little different than most. I never thought it was unusual. Children are not inherently racist. They have to be taught it or experience racism themselves in order to understand.

I’m certainly not saying that my experience as a white minority is anything even remotely comparable to the way real minorities are treated in this country. I don’t recall being discriminated against for my skin color. Gender discrimination, yes. Racial discrimination, not so much. When I think about being bullied–which I was, unmercifully, particularly in junior high–all the jeering faces are white.

The worst bullies I ever had were Desiree and Kim, both of whom were white girls. Desiree bullied me during gym class. She’d trip me when I ran and throw balls at me as hard as she could during dodgeball. She ruined my brand new suede jacket by smashing a chocolate ice cream cone into my back during lunch one day. The stain never came out.

Kim was more physically violent than Desiree. She was the type to snap your bra strap as hard as she could during class or slam you against a locker. I was terrified of Kim. She spat gum into my hair one day and I had to cut it out.

There were boy bullies, too. There was one whose surname was right next to mine in the alphabet, and whenever we had to line up alphabetically, he’d brutally taunt me. He’s the one who came up with a very rude nickname I won’t mention and got the entire school to call me that for a few days.

Yet, all of the bullies faces that I can remember are white. I don’t recall being bullied by anyone who wasn’t white.

I am just over 50% Finnish. The other half is French and German. I’m really as white as white can get. I have very pale skin and I am a natural blonde with green eyes, which just made me stand out more in school. I just wanted to blend in, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have the confidence to stand up straight and just be myself. That wouldn’t come until high school.

I’ve never thought that I’m better than anyone else or that anyone was better than me because of skin color. My skin is prone to sunburn and cancer, so really, it’s not all that great. I don’t like that people make assumptions based on skin color, whatever color it is. I’m sure people make assumptions about me; as if I’m one of those racist white people. I don’t like racists. I particularly don’t like white racists, because they reflect badly on me. I don’t want to be lumped in with them.

As I said yesterday: It’s just melanin. We all have the same skin, because we are all the same species. In fact, according to the Smithsonian, “the genetic difference between individual humans today is minuscule–about 0.1% on average.” This means that all humans currently on the planet Earth are ± 99.9% the same. My 0.1% is better than your 0.1%! Derrrr.

I think we should be more like dogs. You never see a golden retriever snub a black lab at the dog park because they’re different colors. Dogs are dogs, people are people, and we are all essentially the same.