• Another 100 Days of Good Karma: Day 282 (A White Girl’s Experience with Racism)

    racialmicroaggressionshair

    I know what this feels like.

    Sunday, April 19, 2015

    Run/ Walk/ Bike/ Elliptical (Today:  0.00 miles;  Running Total: 247.52 miles)

    Day 282 of *Another* 100 Days of Good Karma.

    [The picture above is from the article 21 Racial Microaggressions You Hear on a Daily Basis. Click here if you’d like to see the entire article.]

    Today I went grocery shopping with Hannah. As I pushed the cart through the store, I was struck by how grateful I felt to just be another person in the crowd of Sunday shoppers.

    Today the gratitude I felt came from something Amy said on Saturday. Something I haven’t been able to get off my mind.

    “You look good with short hair” she said.

    “Thanks. I’m just happy to have hair.”

    I described what it was like to go into public and have a feature – namely, being bald – that I had no control over that marked me as different.

    I have pretty good self esteem, but it bothered me deeply that anyone could look at me and see something glaring that set me apart.

    “Total strangers would ask me about my hair,” I told Amy. “They’d ask if I shaved it on purpose. One guy tried to peek under my head scarf. And I never felt comfortable in wigs. I wore them for a while before I realized it was only to put others at ease. That’s when I stopped wearing them. It was enough work to manage my own feelings without worrying about how my bald head made other people feel.”

    Amy gave me an interesting perspective.

    “It sounds like you got a taste of what it’s like to experience racism,” she said. “Growing up all I wanted was to have blonde hair and blue eyes so I would fit in.”

    I was stunned. Amy is beautiful, tall, athletic, fun to be around and encouraging to a fault. I couldn’t believe she’d want to be anyone other than her amazing self.

    But she told me about a few racist experiences she’s had.

    People who approached her and said inappropriate things like “What are you?” Or men approaching her and saying, “I fought in ‘Nam, I’ve met lots of you,” or people just mimicking an accent, “ching, chong, ching.”

    I was horrified. I mean, really, how insensitive can people be?

    Apparently the answer is ‘very’.

    I remember very clearly that even simple curiosity can hurt.

    Not so long ago I wore a head cover out in public because I had no hair. And I felt the stares. I saw the quick glances at me then just as quickly averted eyes when I caught them staring. And I remember clenching my jaw and holding my head higher even though I felt a tiny cut on my heart each and every time.

    Would it feel very much different to walk into a grocery store wearing a head covering for religious reasons?

    I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet money that the experience is similar.

    If this is what racism feels like, it’s ugly.

    People who have never experienced racism (um, me, pre-cancer) can’t understand, can’t fathom, just how ugly because we’ve never been on the receiving end.

    Today’s Silver Lining: Another surprise lesson from cancer. I learned how racism feels.

    Will I ever know what it’s like to live with racism every day for my whole life? No.

    I was born from a place of relative privilege. I didn’t grow up rich but I grew up with light hair, blue eyes and pale skin. Something I didn’t even realize was a privilege until one of the magic trio was taken from me.

    And even now just by letting my hair grow I magically ‘fit in’ again.

    So no, I’ll never fully understand what it’s like to live with racism every day.

    But I know that no matter how I look now pushing a cart through a busy grocery store with my daughter in tow, I’ll always carry the memory of how much courage it took to blink back tears, to keep moving forward and hold my scarf covered head up a little higher.

    What’s your silver lining today?  I love comments!

    Don’t want to leave a comment, but have something you want to share?  Send me an email at gettingthewordswrong(at)gmail(dot)com.

    xoxo,
    Meghan

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