Race, racism, color, sexual orientation, anything to differentiate people seems to be so rampant in the news right now. We’ve all heard about Paula Deen, Trayvon Martin, and George Zimmerman, to name a few. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and most folks seem more than happy to shout theirs from the rooftops, or their blogs, or their facebook walls. I’m not going to share my opinion on any of these issues with you. There are more than enough forums for argument without me creating yet another one. But I am going to talk about people.
I was fortunate enough to be raised by parents who didn’t teach us to look at people as black, white, Hispanic, or Asian, but to look at them as people. Human beings, with unique personalities, likes, dislikes, and ideas. We were taught to like and dislike people based on the person and how they behaved and lived.
I took this for granted as a child and teenager. It just didn’t really occur to me that people didn’t take that approach. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how truly prejudiced some people are, or how so many people are so very much aware of race and differences, not thinking of someone as a person, but as a label. I find myself alternating between being angry with the labelers for being so stuck on labels, and pitying them for some of the great friendships that they will probably never have.
I can’t help but wonder how far some people might be willing to take labels. My skin is pale, so I’m considered white, but do I need to explain my ancestry too? Am I to become Danielle, the heterosexual, pale skinned woman with French, Native American (Cherokee and Apache, if you need specifics), Italian, and Greek ancestry? Should I further go on to explain (just to keep my label really accurate) that while my last name sounds somewhat German, I have no German ancestry that I’m aware of, and that I merely took my husband’s last name when we married? I know that sounds ridiculous, but I don’t see how it’s much worse than deciding that we can or can’t be friends based on the color of my skin or any other label. Isn’t it easier for me to be just Danielle? Then you can learn that I love animals, am chronically late, somewhat pigheaded, and a little obsessed with feeding people, and then like or dislike me for those and the thousands of other things that make me me.
On the other end of the spectrum, you come across things like this post that I read a while back. I encourage you to check it out. It’s worth the click and the read. In it, Mare talks about the colors in her life, not as black and white, but as paint colors that best match the person’s skin tone. There’s a link to a color wheel where you can match up yourself or other people using pictures. I haven’t taken the time to do it yet, but it has tempted me to tell people that I’m cream or vellum (my makeup colors depending on the season) if they must have a color label for me. Mare matches up quite a few family members, and it’s interesting to see the different shades and variations, even within the same family. And some of the color names are great; some people end up being colors like China Moon or Lilac. It’s a beautiful sentiment, and makes me think that her life must be very full for having so many people of various colors in it.
I think about the colors in my life, and I realize that my life is full of different and colorful people once I actually sit back and think about the labels that they would be given. There’s Hailie, my Chinese friend, who I always think of as my only much younger friend, so full of energy, there’s Jocelyn my black friend, who I always think of as a very outgoing and truly kind person who seems to have it all together, there’s Sarah my white, lesbian friend, who I always think of as my Facebook friend who posts great animal pictures and is a plethora of lawn care/home maintenance information, there’s Esther my friend from Spain, who I always think of as my older, wiser friend who’s a mix of friend and older sister, there’s Crystal, my white (though by very different ancestry than me) friend, who I think of as the diplomat, my best friend, cohort, etc.
I wasn’t denied any of these friendships because of labels. Once again, I alternate between pity for the people who will never be friends with these people because of labels, and anger at them for callously dismissing some truly wonderful people.
So I say again, we’re all just people. We all have hopes, dreams, fears, insecurities, and unique personalities that make us who we are. We don’t need labels for that.