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The color of our skin does not define who we are. Our skin merely holds us together so that our guts don’t spill out and our muscles, big or small, have something to hide behind. Scientifically speaking, the definition of skin is “the natural outer layer of tissue that covers the body of a person or animal,” which means that regardless of color, our skin has a purpose; it has a job. Nowhere in the definition does it say that its color, hue, or shade decides who or what we become, nor does it guide us how to treat others in our same genus. It also lacks any encouragement to make us think that one pigment is more superior to another.
If our skin isn’t to blame, why then do we grow up feeling a certain way because of its color? Why do some people feel privileged while others feel disgruntled? It certainly isn’t because our skin makes us physically feel that way. The appearance of our flesh doesn’t direct us to behave one way or another when confronted with difficult choices. Skin doesn’t slap us in the face as we look in the mirror and tell us that we aren’t good enough. Only someone who has been mistreated or been told lies or been provoked into believing they aren’t worthy feels this way. If skin had a few words of wisdom to extend to us all, it might be to stand taller and prouder, don’t slouch, stay out of the sun, and throw on a little lotion every now and then. So in the grand scheme of things: protect what you have because it’s yours, for better or worse.
Since our skin can’t speak, we can blame our environment for our opinions about its color. We can bequeath our shameful misconceptions on the people we choose or are forced to live with, the exchange of looks on strangers’ faces, the words our parents use to describe our neighbors, the ideas and images we take away from books, both fiction and non-fiction, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, and the purchases we make to mimic those who hold our admiration. Some might say the fault for our skewed perception of race isn’t our fault at all. It’s because of everyone else, of what those before us have done, said, or created that makes us innocent bystanders in how we live our own lives. Some might even be so bold as to say that we have no control over our learned behavior at all.
At an early age, we notice the differences in the people in our community, whether it’s while shopping at the mall, eating at a restaurant, or playing at the park. Upon entering school, we begin making observations about those differences, but generally go about life without prejudice. Then it happens. Children seek out those who are physically similar and form a group. They feel most comfortable around kids who share the same qualities and who have parents that mimic theirs. By doing so, they inadvertently leave other kids to do the same, no one venturing outside the comfort zone they miraculously created all by themselves. This might be why when you pass groups of students at the middle school and high school, they are color-coded for the most part. They align themselves with what they see in the mirror. Is that so wrong? Absolutely not. Is it right? Who is to say.
As adults, it’s our job to model acceptance and equality, bring forth love and compassion, and push aside hate and revenge. It’s up to us to teach our children that skin is a casing, covered in blemishes and irregularities that are uniquely our own. Its color is predetermined for us, and there is nothing we can do to change it, nor should we want to. It’s our job to lead the future toward a place we have yet to experience, a place where prejudice is an unfamiliar term and racism isn’t spoken about.
It can exist.
This isn’t a dream.