It’s hard, in any context, to accept that you are different than others, set apart by something, no matter if that something is your mannerisms, your likes and dislikes, or the colour of your skin. Perhaps this is why we, as upper class, elite, “white” people, find said term, white, so difficult to use when confronting racism. We as people don’t like to recognize that the colour of our skin gives us advantages over common man; after all, it seems like a really nice story, that everything we’ve achieved in life can be accredited to hardwork and determination. I’ve always personally believed that I’ve gotten where I am in life thanks purely to the work I’ve put in, and only recently have I started to realize that there are most definitely other things at play. That’s not to say that hard work has nothing to do with it; it does, definitely, but there’s a huge pool of opportunity that most white people don't consider. As Balkissoon points out, “as cards are dealt in the hand of life, white is a good one to get” (Balkissoon, 2016 n.p.). And as things go, it’s true. Being white gives you a lot of privileges in society that you don’t even consider on a day to day basis. The ones that you do consider are those that tend to give the impression that maybe, just maybe, you have the thing known as white privilege. But there’s that word again. White. It’s a scary word, alluding that you’ve got power because of your skin. But, you can't possibly, because you aren’t racist, so you can't have white privilege. Everyone’s equal in today’s society, you know. The beliefs of one, “bad apple” racist are just that, the beliefs of one, and aren’t comparable to the majority of our racially just society. Skin colour doesn’t affect your success and failure, it’s always about who works the hardest and strives the most. At least, that's the common rebuttal the majority of people seem to believe. And who can blame them? Afterall, let's face it, who wants to admit they’ve got a one up in life because of their skin colour? That’s just racist, right?
Balkissoon, D (2016). Whiteness is a racial construct. It's time to take it apart.
Retrieved from: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/whiteness-is-a-racial-construct-its-time-to-take-it-apart/article32301637/
It wasn’t something abnormal, in the beginning. It was simple, innocent, a detail of my life that I’d never thought to notice. It didn’t make a difference of how I thought of myself or lived my life. Except that it did.
I stare down at my hands, which are neatly folded in my lap, on top of my closed book. The skin is a pale, pasty white, contrasting against the beginning reader’s dark cover, an obvious sign of not getting enough sun. This wasn’t something I could help; my mother said that because my skin burned so easily, the only way to solution was to coat myself with sunblock.
But still. Children are mean. I didn’t matter that I was soft spoken and shy, never engaging in conflict or aggressive behaviour. I was a target. I wasn’t cute, pretty, tan, anything really. I was plain, simple, and apparently a very unattractive shade of white.
I bring my knees up to my chest, wrapping my small arms around milky thighs as my book falls to the floor. So what if I liked reading more than sports. It didn't matter, did it?
My eyes water. I just wanted to have friends and be like everyone else. Why was it so hard, to be pretty and popular? The other girls did it almost effortlessly. So why was it so hard for me?
Water cascades down my cheeks. I’m not sobbing, but it’s pretty close.
The door makes a soft creaking noise as it opens and I raise my head as my mother shuffles into the room.
She takes one look at my face, where a clearly fake smile has arisen, and her face drops as she approaches and pulls me into her warm embrace.
“Oh pumpkin,” She murmurs softly. “What's the matter?”
I take a moment, thinking. My 6 year old mind isn't quite sure how to express my thoughts into words. “Mama,” I start. “Is there something wrong with me?”
She pulls back and wipes away one of my tears with her fingers as she looks into my eyes. “Of course not sweetie! Why would you ever say such a silly thing?”
I sniffle, dragging the back of my wrist over my eyes, swollen and red from crying. “It’s just, all the other girls at school are so pretty and perfect. And the boys, they say that I’m pale and ugly.”
My mother sighs, thumbing my cheek. “You know that's not true. The other children are just being mean; you're plenty beautiful, and that adorable paleness helps make you that way.”
Instead of responding, I lean into my mom’s touch, resting my head on her shoulder. I’m not crying anymore, but the evidence of my tears are all over my face, drying on my cheeks and around my eyes.
“Sweetheart, look at me. Whatever those children say, don't listen to them. You are the most beautiful little girl I have ever seen and so smart too. Who are they to tell you that you’re not pretty because you're pale. Lots of people are pale. In fact, your mama was even paler when she was your age!”
A smile cracks across my face, a real one this time, as I stare up at my mother in amazement. “Really? Mama was?”
“I certainly was,” she laughs. “Now, go wash your face and we can go make some brownies okay? I know they're your favourite!”
I grin and nod excitedly, before jumping up and racing towards the sink.
I wish that had been the end, with happy smiles and baking treats.
But the fact is, I may have been as white as white could be, but the pasty colour of my skin was considered abnormal and different by my schoolmates. I was teased because of it.
There became a point that I became numb to the teasing. I ignored it, legs drawn in as I sat in a shady corner, nose in a book, hiding away from the other children.
It got less and less blatant as I grew. It became whispered words, or total ignorance entirely. That was fine.
But it wasn’t, was it?
So why did I ignore it?