I’ve always been fascinated by the Civil Rights Movement. I read the book “Through My Eyes” to my children multiple times when they were small. I wanted them to know the importance of education, of standing up for yourself, and of our country’s history. They learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his famous “I have a Dream” speech. Not because we were celebrating black history month, but because I wanted them to have a dream far bigger than anything they could imagine at such a young age. And because I wanted them to be able to see someone’s skin color and also see past it.
Growing up “mixed” (half Mexican, the other half White (Swedish, Irish) and reports of Native American Indian heritage (that I have yet to confirm), I tended to identify with the Mexican side of my history. Now a days I can admit that I’m a White girl in a Mexican woman’s body. When you are a fan of country music and your skin color doesn’t really reflect that, what else can you do? A lot of times, though, I didn’t really fit in.
I didn’t (and still don’t) have the blonde hair and blue eyes that so many other people I grew up with sported. My hair didn’t (and still doesn’t) lay tamely on my head. I still can’t speak enough Spanish to make myself useful or respond coherently to any Spanish speaking waiter in the myriad of Mexican restaurants I’ve eaten in. I know, right? I’m so ashamed. I didn’t have a quinceañera or a sweet sixteen party. I can make a mean homemade tortilla, but I’ve never quite gotten the hang of making tamales.
Most of the time, though, none of these things really mattered. Not in the grand scheme of life anyway. More than anything, it provided multiple opportunities for funny stories or reinforced the quirks about me and my life. Until recently. Until race and racism and conflict over skin color became a big deal again.
It’s strange isn’t it? How that’s happened. After all that Martin Luther King, Jr. did for the Civil Rights Movement and yet here we are. In the midst of violence and hate and racial tension. It’s heartbreaking. Between Ferguson Missouri and New York City, it hurts to see so many people hurting and fighting and trying to find their place in this country.
I’m not writing this to debate about who was right or wrong in those situations. It’s not my place. I wasn’t there to see it firsthand. I’m writing this because it lays heavy on my heart. Because I grew up hearing stories about people who wouldn’t like me because I didn’t look white and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
I’ve been asked where I come from more times than I can count. I’ve been mistaken for half black, Native American, Hawaiian, Venezuelan, and a host of other nationalities over the years. My all-time favorite question to get is: “What are you?” Um, yeah, I’m human. What are you?
My father used to say he didn’t see skin color. I was never quite sure how to take that since skin color is one of the first things you notice when you meet a person. Because I do. I’m sure you do, unless you’re blind and can’t see skin color. And I don’t mean it disrespectfully, but dang it, God created us with eyes. We see color!
I saw color when I dated my first boyfriend whose skin was a dark chocolate hue. I saw color when I married my fair skinned husband. I saw color when I took my son to class with me when he was three years old. When he asked me why black men on campus high fived him and not his fair skinned brother, I knew he saw color too. And probably so did the men who gave him high fives.
I see color, but I also see past it. I see past it to the personality and wit and humor and compassion of others. I see past it to get to know my sons’ girlfriends and my daughter’s friends. I see past it when I meet someone new, knowing he or she could become an important part of my life. I see past it because choosing not to is like judging a book by its cover with much worse repercussions than the possibility of missing out on a well written novel. To see skin color and be stopped by that is to miss out on a potential friend or confidante or lover.
You may be caught up in the debate about who’s right or wrong in the recent racial conflicts that have occurred. And those events have been tragic to say the least. But I encourage you to ask yourself what happens when you see skin color. Does it stop you in your tracks, preventing you from seeing someone for who she really is? Or can you see the beauty of someone God created and look past it to find the beauty inside that person’s heart?