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
Very well said, Hannah! I am also inspired by your honesty and ability to reflect in yourself. It makes me think and question how I approach and interact with others. Also, as a father to three teenage daughters: 11, 13, and 16 years old, that these are the conversations we should be encouraging as a family. Too often as people we are quick to criticize and judge with no REAL solutions in mind. One of my favorite things to do is REALLY LISTEN to the ideas and world views our daughters have. Our family actually has a parenting coach that has taught us so much about the diversity of ones childhood. I had no idea but learned that despite our three daughters living under the same roof with the same parents, their experiences, identity, opinions, and overall childhood are all completely and utterly different and that’s not just good it’s great. Our world and communities need to embrace these variations as this is the essence of creativity and beauty. One of my favorite quotes is from Robin Williams in the movie, Dead Poets Society, which in essence says being a lawyer, doctor, or whatever career are noble pursuits and they are necessary for us to live but they are not what we live FOR…for we live for love, passion, music, art, and beauty. I believe at the heart of what you’re saying is that life in and of itself could be so much richer if we were to understand the impact that we have on others and truly accept people for who they are and what they are…not something as superficial as skin tone, political viewpoints, etc…in essence, people are far greater than generalizations that limit who and what they are. God’s vision by creating us each in His perfect image was far greater than what society or others often limit us to.
Well done! Blessings to you, your journey, and your entire family. I hope you will continue to be enlightened (as I have even at 42 years old I’m learning every day) with wisdom, a broader understanding, and can be a source of hope and encouragement for the many people that so desperately need it.
Hannah! What powerful and introspective thoughts….I too grew up being one of the only ethnically diverse people growing up in small mountain resort town…it is an experience you have clearly already taken advantage of as the amazing opportunity it is. Not only to change you life and mind but many others. Keep that beautiful head up high as you conquer the world!
I felt a similar thing when landing at our home here in Denver as you did in NY. My neighbors look nothing like me. And I love it. I feel at peace here. Yet, I wonder if my skin tone makes them nervous. Or even scared. Or angry. I’m praying a lot about my interactions with them and asking the Holy Spirit to lead me. I also just recently started the book “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria” and it’s a book that a woman wrote about Racial Identity Development. She was invited to the White House after getting it published because it’s brilliant. I think this read would breathe a breath of fresh air into your soul should you desire to pick it up. Keep processing and reaching for love. Nothing can grasp His love and He promises redemption of all of this chaos. Hold onto Him and those who passionately love Him. It’s worth the wild ride. Hugs from me 😉
Thank you, Hannah, this is exactly what needs to be said! And thank you, Sara, for your wonderful guest writer 🙂
Great job Hannah you did awesome great story
Honest and mature thoughts and introspection. Thank you for a clarity you bring to our current environment.
Great thoughts Hannah. In this time and environment where we are hoping to continue to move forward in our race relations with even our closest friends and neighbors, but more awkwardly with strangers in online forums and in our media, where anything perceived to be a racist comment or memory is microscoped, destroyed with flamethrowers and accusations of racism…it is so easy to overlook the simplicity of the approach you have written eloquently about. Yes we all have it to one degree or another. Now how can we admit it and kindle a new fire as the people of the earth? Maybe by keeping it simple and extending more compassion.