Everyone says, “children don’t see color”. That’s true….for most kids. When I was very little, still in pre-school, I saw color. I was from a small town that was majority white and I had never really been around any other race. I can remember this story like it happened yesterday. The daycare that I went to was closer to the city. It had all kinds of different kids. It was essentially “the melting pot” of daycare’s. I pretty much got free range while I was there because my mother was the director. One day I was playing outside when a little black girl with pigtail braids asked me if I wanted to play with her. She looked so different than I did. I had long, light brown, soft hair. My skin was a nice tan color, only because it was summer time. This girl and I looked nothing alike. I remember telling her I did NOT want to play with her, and probably ran as far away from her as I could. I went home with my mom that night and I said to her, “mommy, do we like black people?”. She was in utter shock that I would even ask such a thing. “Of course we like black people, we like everyone, no matter what color their skin is“. The next day we were outside playing again. I quickly found the little black girl and told her that, actually, we could play together. From that point forward I was not afraid or discriminate towards anyone of any race. In fact, in kindergarten my very first best friend was a little black girl. We were best friends for years.
The point of that story was not that I was a racist child. No child is unless they are taught to be. I was simply afraid. I saw the differences in us and I was unsure if it was ok or not. But I learned, very quickly, that it was ok for us to look different. I learned that it was ok for different races, in America, to be around each other, but there were other things that took longer for me to learn. For example, when I was little I spent a lot of time with my grandma while my mom was at work. My grandma watched the news as much as it was on, which was a lot. I watched it with her most of the time, and the times that I did watch it, there always seemed to be a male on the tv for some type of crime. Rape, drugs, murder, robbery, whatever the crime was, it always seemed to be a sketchy looking man. In return, this made me fear men. I had a father, and a grandpa, and lots of other men in my life, but when my mother and I were in public I was very nervous around men. One day we were at a gas station, which I was already sketched out by in the first place because crimes seemed to happen a lot at gas stations. There was a tall, skinny, white man, with a mustache. I eyeballed him until we left the store…but he followed us. He went to grab my mothers arm and I was just about ready to let out a scream when my mom greeted him with a relieved… smile? It was someone she knew. I had been afraid, for no reason, other than what I had learned to fear from the evening news.
A lot of people do this. They learn a bit here and there about the actions of a single person, and they judge the whole group by the single person. This is stereotyping. It’s all caused by fear of the unknown. Stereotyping can be brought on by who is shown on the news more for what crimes and simply by the people we already know and judging everyone who looks like them. It’s crippling. Judging is human nature. It’s instinctive to judge someone based on how they look. But we need to start judging people on how they act as an individual.
I got over my fear of people based on how they looked through learning. I had always been fascinated by other cultures and so as soon as I got a library card I got as many books on other cultures as I could. I became very amused with India and the way people dressed and the traditions they practiced. I stopped fearing people who wore head dresses (which at one point I was very afraid of). I became intrigued with Asia and the history of the samurai. My grandma also watched a lot of old westerns, which in return made me fear Native Americans (even though we rarely see a Native American in full dress). Then middle school came and I fell in love with history class. History is my absolute favorite subject, not just because it’s easy, but it truly allows you to learn and absorb other cultures. History obviously trumped my fear of the Native American culture.
There’s something beautiful that happens when you learn about the world outside of the life you know. One, you obviously have less to fear. Two, you create a connection. You realize that you have so much more in common with others than you do differences. This creates empathy. Once you can relate to others who look and live differently, you can empathize better. Empathizing is what allows us to see others as us instead of as them.
Being able to relate and see patterns in society is what keeps it level and steady. You can be different than people but still see them as equal to you. I used to think that people who had accents weren’t as smart as me, but they knew two languages and I did not. I used to think every person with saggy pants had a gun, I used to think wars and chaos that happened in history was never going to happen again, especially in my own country. The truth is, history is only a glimpse in time. A little whisper of what was happening. It’s easy to put distance between yourself and the Civil war, or WWI, or WWII, or even 9/11. We say to ourselves,” that was then, this is now“. But we refuse to see the patterns leading up to those events. We refuse to realize that there is actually little difference between what happened then and what can happen now. The only thing standing between those events and us is time.
The unknown is what allows fear to overcome the knowledge linking us to people who are different from us. Today in America, so many people don’t want to even try to learn about the Muslim community. If people do not learn, then it is easier to judge. Once people realize that the Muslim community has many similarities to the Christian community then the radical differences can settle. Once people realize that the color of your skin does not make you good or bad, or the religion others practice is not evil, or the poor people from The Great Depression felt the same way as poor people today, we might actually see ourselves in the world more often than we think.
So how do we overcome fear? We learn about the unknown. The only thing that makes anything scary is what we do not know about it. The dark is scary because we can’t see what’s in it. The ocean is scary because we haven’t explored enough of it. Space is scary because we don’t know what could become of it. Flying is scary because we don’t know if we’ll make it. But we have flashlights now, to see into the dark. We are continuing to explore the oceans to learn more about them. We go further and further into space every day. Engineers perfect airplanes more and more every year. If something or someone scares you, learn about it. Learn, and learn, and learn some more. Read as much as you can. If you have a question, look up the answer. We have more knowledge at our fingertips than we could have ever imagined. All you have to do is use it.