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  • Writer's pictureTanja Battle

Race. It's not black and white.

Two worlds collided in the name of love.

I am not white and I am not black. I've never felt the need to declare such before but, I wanted to share how things have shifted for me. Recently, I have been dismissed as being a person of color by two different people. One of those is a person I've known all my life and love dearly and the other is an acquaintance that… well, I don't even like. As I looked down at my hands in both instances, I wondered what their thought process was to draw that mutual conclusion. I remember being a young girl in Germany. My mom and I would spend tons of time together and were often out and about in the bustling city in which she grew up. One day, we were on the top floor of a huge retail building in a cafeteria line getting food. As we pushed our trays to the register, I remember the cashier looking at me and then looking at my mom curiously before finally asking, "are you together?" Even at that age, I remember thinking how crazy that was. Of course we are together! Would a young girl be here by herself? How would she have money to pay? What kind of parent would allow her to be alone? Can't you see that she is my mother?? And then it struck me. She was asking because we appeared not to belong to one another. The shades of our skin were different, after all. Fast forward a few decades to Jordan, three years old at the time. She asked, "why are you white and I'm brown?" I looked down at my hands that time, too. My skin was indeed brown, albeit a lighter shade, so I didn't understand. That's where the lesson, "we're all the same on the inside" started. I believed those words with all that was in me but that is not the Truth that is evident today in the news, on social media and in unexpectedly disappointing conversations with friends. It is no longer the Truth for me at all. The reality is, it's never been true. What I have come to know is saying things like "I do not see race" or "I'm colorblind" or "we're all the same on the inside" negates part of who people are and therein, I believe, lies the problem. We don't fully see people. We all have different experiences and some of those are directly related to how we are perceived, based on the color of our skin. To not acknowledge this is a great disservice and even worse, a catalyst for the perpetuation of prejudice, discrimination and yes, even racism. I was recently told (by a highly educated professional) that our nation's history is not as bad as Germany's because "we didn't kill people, we only owned them." So. Many. Things. Wrong. With. That. In light of these recent conversations, and my being discounted and all that plagues us via news/social media, I'm pretty disheartened. If you know me at all, you know I like to process uncomfortable feelings and with that, I will choose, going forward, to engage in civil discourse. Maybe some of you know what it feels like to be questioned about what your race is. Maybe some of you have never had to address it because it's clear. Maybe some of you know what it's like to be the only person who isn't like everyone else in a room. Maybe some of you don't. Perhaps you may even know what it feels like to be called "vegetable soup" by your white boss in front of an audience comprised of male professionals who all happened to be of color. (yes, this actually happened.) Acknowledgment of our differences based on race is not racism. And, if you think racism is a thing of the past and that some of us are making more of this racial divide than should be made, you are not paying attention. Taking a look at this is uncomfortable. Taking self-inventory surrounding this matter is even more so. I am not without my own prejudices so part of this process is to look at those, too. Sadly, I have to think about how many times have I been silent when someone has made a generalization about a particular group of people. How many times have I awkwardly left a conversation when jokes have been offensive. There's a movement towards being politically incorrect and boldly embracing that and in that same movement there's the "oh, just lighten up" response leaving some of us unwilling to speak because we know what's coming if we draw attention to that which isn't acceptable. I will no longer simply delete the offensive emails. To be clear, I have confronted folks who have sent me such (why they think it's okay is further evidence that I'm not fully seen ) These confrontations haven't necessarily been productive, but they were better than the silence, my original go-to response. This silence has aided in perpetuating a behavior that, at its best, lacks civility and humanity; at its worse, underscores superiority and hate. As a new approach, I will invite a conversation about it and as uncomfortable as it may be, the invitation will be there. What the recipient of such does with it is, of course, outside of my control. I am thankful to those who of you who have inspired me to do something different, through your courage and your transparency and vulnerability. And I, well I just remain hopeful.

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