I had someone ask me last week if I was mixed. Yeah, me. In case you didn't see my big head at the top of the website—I'm the one on in the center and I'm what most would call "white" (said in my best Alabama southern accent). I'm about as white as white can get.
I honestly thought at first they were joking, but their face said otherwise. I chuckled a little and they said, "Oh, well you don't sound white so I thought maybe you were mixed with something."
"I am!" I exclaimed, "two WHITE people!" I laughed to myself and went on my way.
I can already feel it; you're nervous. You are afraid to continue reading for fear that you might get more uncomfortable with each ensuing word.
Don't worry, I'm not going to ruffle your feathers too much. There's something I find fascinating and I feel like you will too. There's an elephant—heck, a whole freakin' herd—in the room and we not only need to address it, we need to be okay with it.
noun | cul·ture | \ ˈkəl-chər \
the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time
I was raised in a white, conservative, Pentecostal, Republican, Alabama home. Sounds like a perfect storm of great attributes, right? However, some would immediately stereotype me based off any one or a combination of these things. For instance, I'm white and from Alabama, so I must be racist. I'm Pentecostal so I obviously handle snakes and am super spiritual. I'm white, conservative, and Republican, so I certainly voted for Trump and have a closet full of red hats, American flag shorts, and flannel shirts.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but 90% of those things aren't true. (Now you want to go back and read it again to figure out that 10%, don't you?)
It took me some time, but with a little guidance and an open mind, I figured out something pretty astounding. All of the attributes above, plus others, are each pieces of the different cultures to which I ascribe, each with their own unique lens through which to view the world. Often, we get so used to looking through the lens that comes naturally to us that if we are ever asked—or potentially forced—to look through different ones, we become extremely uncomfortable.
I still remember the first time I recognized my "Pentecostal" culture. In high school, one of my friends asked me to attend church with her; she went to a Church of Christ. I agreed to go one Wednesday night, and the first thing I noticed was that there were no instruments on the stage. Then I took note that zero women were involved in the program. Also, we stayed seated most of the time. (If you've ever been to a Pentecostal church, you know none of this was familiar to me.)
Not only did their biblical beliefs differ from mine, but their culture and how they "did" church was significantly different. To say that this made me feel uncomfortable was an understatement. I had been to church before so I had certain expectations of what that looked and felt like. But because I was suddenly immersed in a different culture, those expectations lead to discomfort.
The uneasiness that comes with experiencing life through a new lens is not because of race, or color of skin specifically, but it's because of the culture that surrounds each of those things individually. Hence my remarks today that culture is, in fact, greater than color.
"Often, we get so used to looking through the lens that comes naturally to us that if we are ever asked—or potentially forced—to look through different ones, we become extremely uncomfortable."
However, if I am going to make a statement as bold as "Culture is greater than color," then what about race?
noun | \ ˈrās \
a. a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics b. a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits
Your race is often defined or interpreted by your color. But you can't help what race you were born into, right? Of course not.
Isn't it interesting that the dictionary defines "race" in two different ways? Asserting that your particular race could be either one or both of these definitions, essentially saying that your race does not have to be defined by physical traits. So what do we do with that?
I say, and I think we all would agree if we were really honest, that it's possible to be born a certain race and not reflect the interests, habits, or characteristics of that particular race. It's also completely possible to be born into a race of people and share the interests, habits, and characteristics without sharing the same distinctive physical traits as that race.
The reason this is possible? We are not defined solely by race, but rather by the cultural lens through which we choose to see life.
noun, often attributive | col·or | \ ˈkə-lər \
skin pigmentation especially other than white characteristic of race
From this definition, we should understand this: a person's color is nothing more than a characteristic of their race.
So, if we are not defined by our race, then is it possible that we are also not defined by the color of our skin? And, like I've said before, if we are defined by the cultural lens through which we see life, then our actions and the person we become are 100% a choice.
Don't get me wrong, I know that sometimes growing up we face unfortunate circumstances that are out of our control. But when the rubber meets the road (and you've lived past childhood), be defined by the culture you choose, not what you're born into. It really is up to you.
Yes, I am white, but I was the only white kid on my block growing up. My neighbor, Marcus, was one of my best friends and he looked nothing like me, though we acted exactly the same. Sure, I was raised to be conservative, but the level of my conservatism now is completely my choice. Yes, I go to a Pentecostal church, but I prefer to be called a Christian above all else. Alright, I'm a Republican, but I often identify with a lot of the arguments on the other side of the aisle. And, you better believe I'm from Sweet Home Alabama—where the people are as sweet as the tea; grits, bacon, biscuits, and gravy are a regular meal; and college football is a religion—but I prefer the city life, where graffiti marks territory and lights illuminate the night.
This is who I am because it's who I choose to be. Will you choose to strictly be defined by the color of your skin or the culture of your birth? OR will you recognize...you're so much more than that?
Until next time.
*All definitions were sourced from merriam-webster.com and were not changed or edited in any way.