My skin is brown.
Sure, it’s partially due to a 2-week vacation in Hawaii, but it’s mainly because I was born this way: Brown. My father is from the island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean and my mother is from Colombia in South America. I’m first generation, born here in the U.S. in Bronx, New York. But I’m still brown. My skin color doesn’t physically change, but for some reason, people’s perception of me does change because I am brown.
I’ve been pulled over by white/Caucasian police officers on multiple occasions in two different states, not for violating any laws but simply because “I looked suspicious.” In one instance, I was only six houses down the street from the home I lived in and in the other instance I was let off with a “warning.”
Twice I’ve been doing yard work in the front lawn of the homes I owned and resided in at the time (again in two different states), and I’ve had white/Caucasian neighbors pull up in front of my home and ask me, “How much do you charge?” To which I could only simply reply, “I’m sorry, I don’t do this for a living. This is where I actually live.”
Believe it or not, several years ago I even had someone make racist jokes about me and my daughter to my face, in my house, during a Christian bible study that my wife and I led. (He, too, happened to be white/Caucasian.)
My own daughter, at the age of 3, was told by another child that she wasn’t able to play with him because she was not the same skin color. Did you catch that? She was 3 years old and was discriminated against by another 3 year old. 3… Years… Old.
Now – I don’t share all this to belittle, guilt, or shame white/Caucasian people. I know that the overwhelming majority of white/Caucasian people are incredibly welcoming, gracious, and kind and they are far from racist or ignorant. Sadly though, I also know from personal experience that I have encountered a disproportionate amount of prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, and racism from white/Caucasian people over the course of my life.
To be completely honest and raw with you, those experiences in my life are why I go by the nickname, Ricky. Because it’s “whiter” than Ricardo – my birth name. I remember in the 5th and 6th grades wishing my name was “Shawn” because maybe then I could fit in better with my white friends and just maybe I’d be really accepted. I remember the shame I would feel when my parents spoke Spanish to me in front of my white/Caucasian friends because inevitably it would draw more attention to the fact that I was/am different. I even – embarrassingly so – tried using Sun-In hair product (remember that?!) to make my hair go from black to not-so-black like my lighter-skinned friends.
Those experiences and that understanding wounded me growing up. It jaded me. It made me question motives. It made it difficult for me to trust or to feel like I could really be myself. It wasn’t until I moved to Portland, OR (at that time, a city that was 84% white/Caucasian) that I had to confront these realities within my own self. And the person who challenged me to confront these personal issues was actually a 50-something-year-old Black Man. His exact words were:
“You were brought here to LEARN TO LOVE WHITE PEOPLE. You’ve got shit in your life that won’t be solved until you LEARN TO LOVE WHITE PEOPLE.”
Mind you, I was married to a white person (and still am 🙌🏾) so I thought I already loved white people. But the truth was that I never let my wounds heal.
I never dealt with my hurts or the prejudice of others toward me.
I tried to sweep it under the rug and act like I had moved on. But really, I started to develop my own set of prejudices and biases and they had begun to take root my own heart. That bias and prejudice weren’t “racist,” but it went as far as preventing me from being able to fully receive love from my white/Caucasian friends because I questioned their motives.
So something had to change. And that something was actually a someone – it was me. I had to change. I had to let my wounds heal into scars. Sure, the evidence of the wounds would still exist, but they no longer had to be open. My scars would show where I was once wounded, but they would also show where I had been healed.
This a long post, but here’s the point:
WHETHER YOU’VE BEEN THE VICTIM OR THE ASSAILANT, YOU CAN HEAL AND YOU CAN LEARN TO LOVE.
Racism, hate, prejudice, bias, bigotry, stereotypes, and anger can all be overcome BY, WITH, and THROUGH LOVE.
And it all starts with YOU!