Editor’s Note: Hannah Kaull is an alumni of Million Girl Army, my non-profit organization that transforms middle school girls into globally compassionate teens. She’s had a lot on her mind lately and I invited her to share. Hannah is dedicated to doing her part to make the world a better place. She is an inspiration and I think you’ll enjoy what she has to say. – Sara
Whenever I even say the word, I feel tension in the room.
Why? Where in society did we go wrong? Why because of skin color do issues suddenly exponentially rise? What makes a person feel like they are superior based solely on the color of their skin?
I don’t know. I don’t have many answers. I wish I did. I wish I could change the way humans view each other. But I can’t. I don’t understand the thought process of my peers, the generations of people below and above me. However, I do know my thought process and my experiences. I can only speak for myself. And this is my story; a story of what I want to change.
I was raised in a predominately white community and being one of the only brown girls brought a set of challenges. As a young girl I wanted nothing to do with my skin color. I felt different, which is the last thing I wanted to feel navigating my way through elementary school as I attempted to make friends. I vividly remember tears streaming down my face as I realized I wasn’t like everyone else. That was just the start.
Through middle school, already an incredibly awkward time, I felt singled out because of my skin color. Sometimes it would be funny to joke about, other times teachers wanted me to tell them more about my “home country,” both challenging when I already felt like I stood out just going through the day. Then, the latter part of middle school when many of my friends starting getting more interested in boys, I worried no one would ever like me because of my darker complexion. And high school, where even as I begin I accept my skin color, embracing my difference, I remain aware I’m usually the darkest person in the room.
These are just little snippets of my life.
I did enjoy the attention. Sometimes. I liked when people seemed to genuinely want to know the backstory of where I came from. The jokes could be funny, I would usually laugh along, a lot of them I even made myself. I don’t think people even meant to be rude, I think their intention was good most of the time. It was just the way it was.
But, equally and if not more, I didn’t want to feel like the odd one out. I didn’t always like to answer questions about where I was born. Because it was Bozeman, Montana. Not India. Maybe I didn’t like to be asked if my marriage was going to be arranged. Because it isn’t. So while the questions can be humorous, after a while maybe – just once – it would be nice to not feel as if people are staring at me or asking questions because of my skin tone.
The first time I went to New York City I realized there was a deep rooted issue boiling inside me. Around the age of ten as I got off the plane, I made a comment like, “These are my people.” It was the first distinct moment where I didn’t feel looked at because of my skin color. I wasn’t singled out. It was the first moment where I felt I could hold a conversation with another human being – person to person – without race as the unspoken theme. At the age of ten.
Looking ahead, I see that a lot of my decisions about where and what I want to do are rooted in wanting diversity in my life, to be surrounded by more people of color. But in seeking this I also realized this …
I’m subconsciously racist.
I was talking to my mom about plans for college a few weeks ago and made a statement along the lines of, “I want to get out of a place with so many white people in one area.” And immediately, I realized I showed that same racist attitude I felt I have been shown my whole life. The comment may seem funny to some, rude to others. But it truly comes from a place of hurt.
And that’s a huge take away. As I put the blame on others because I feel insecure about my skin color, I end up doing the same thing to them.
This is a problem. It is a never ending cycle. Look at the news. Look at our political climate. I think we are all racist. You may not mean to be. But from our day-to-day lives and our life experiences we all lean to our tribe. When we start to swing too far to one end of the spectrum either focusing on the minorities or the majority, we encounter issues.
We need to find a middle ground. It is far from equal. I don’t know if it can ever be. I truly don’t think it will be. But I do think as much as we want to put the blame on other people for being racist, it needs to start within ourselves. How?
Change the small day-to-day comments.
Change the way you approach someone.
Change how you have a conversation.
Change the minor details of interactions you have with people.
Make a difference in the way you view race.
We are all human. We need to all be looked at as humans. I don’t care what your race is, your sexual preference, or your socioeconomic background.
We all deserved to be loved equally.
We are all to blame for not sharing that love equally.
Love regardless of anything, treating everyone as you would want to be treated. It’s a message every adult has been telling us over and over our whole lives.
Yet, maybe it’s time to do more than talk about it. Maybe it’s time to actually try it. It may be the only thing that could, over time, bring real change.
-Hannah Kaull, 16