As we hear more experiences and the conflicts that come with growing up non-white in a white world, it is important that we understand and empathize with these experiences. Growing up, many experience casual racism, the impact of beauty standards, and whitewashing. It begins when we are brought into this world, and it lingers throughout our lives. It may be difficult to understand, especially when having not experienced these first-hand, but these things are inevitable when growing up in a predominantly white world.
One of the most common forms of racism in our communities and schools is casual racism. You may feel that you are not actively racist, but unless you take a deeper look at your feelings about race, then you could be a part of the issue. This is shown when someone says things or engages in actions that (intentionally or unintentionally) humiliate, denigrate, and exclude people who experience it. “People have told me ‘I forget you’re Black’ or ‘you’re such a chill Black person, and I didn’t expect that’ or ‘Your family is just different from other Black families. There’s just an air of sophistication and the way you all carry yourselves that’s different’.”, an anonymous voice recounts. Through voicing these remarks, you are inherently reinforcing these false narratives and stereotypes that exist in our society.
Another form of casual racism are microaggressions. This includes people repeatedly trying to touch hair unlike their own in various contexts (at school, in classes, in the workplace, and many inappropriate places, by children and adults alike), which is frankly rude and disrespectful. People will undermine these microaggressions and label them as first-world issues or unimportant, but the fact remains that it is not just about hair. It is the undertone hidden in these instances, and it is about the power that comes with it. Although the fault in this case lies within the person making these remarks, many other microaggressions and casual racism exist within school programs. “Many of these programs and classes have diversity and inclusion policies, and some have even taken a ‘societal step forward’ by changing casting language from ‘color blind’ to ‘color conscious’.”, another anonymous source shares, “But it doesn’t change the fact that by and large these microaggressions still continue to happen and oftentimes administrators leave it up to the Black student to explain why something was not okay or expect them to just deal with it and White students often get cast as leads while Black students mainly get leads that are traditionally ‘designated’ Black roles (like Donkey in Shrek) if any at all. This shows that [these programs] aren’t inclusive at their core.”. This shows that calling a program “color conscious” is not enough, and instead gives less opportunities to non-white students, especially Black students.
An additional struggle is the lack of representation in the beauty industry and the American beauty standards. Even though many beauty companies have taken strides to be more inclusive and diverse, this does not heal the pain girls have gone through just trying to fit into society’s version of “beauty”. “Growing up I was always surrounded by American pop culture and media, which is overwhelmingly white washed. We see it in beauty advertisements, Barbie dolls, magazines, and movies: we are told light skin and blue eyes (white features) are beautiful. It didn’t help that in my middle school there were a handful of racist people that ridiculed Asian features. I remember in sixth grade feeling very awkward and ashamed of my monolids and secretly priding myself over my cheekbones and nose bridge because I thought they gave my face ‘structure’.”, another anonymous source tells. We are constantly reminded by the models we see in magazines, who almost always have light skin and European facial features, that these attributes are essential in order to be beautiful.
“If you see the beauty campaigns for fairness creams and makeup products here as well, a lot of it is based around ‘If you apply this to your skin, you’d be white and you will glow.’. It’s always when the girl has a lot of problems, just because she is dark. And although looking back, it is very funny to see these ads on TV, as a kid, those kinds of ads really shaped the way I looked at the world around me.” -Natasha Valluri, Hyderabad, India.
Because of the weight of these beauty standards, it is difficult to ever accept yourself as beautiful, especially when magazines and media give little to no representation for women of color. Even when beauty brands do include models of different races or darker skin tones, it is all a result of selective diversity, and these models often also have European facial features, which in result does more harm than good. All over the world, we can see different forms of racism and colorism. Living in a nation that is well-known for its abundance of culture, diversity, and immigration throughout history, it is crucial that all people get representation. When we can finally see women of color on magazine covers, then this will give girls the courage to accept and love themselves as they are. And by having this representation, we can all be seen as beautiful.
When growing up with multiple cultures at home and with family, one may feel the pressure to fit in, and will try to culturally assimilate. Although this is important, it is crucial that one does not lose their culture along the way. Growing up as a second-generation immigrant, I had always felt the need to hide the language and culture that were a part of me. I internalized this and felt as if no one would like me if they found out about my cultural differences.. I would refuse to have any connection to my country, instead deciding to pass off as white and let go of any culture I had. I believed that identifying with another culture made me different, and because of that was more of a hindrance than a blessing. But that is simply not true. Having culture is a gift and not something you can give away. With this gift, you find beauty in everything, despite what the beauty industries or American media show you.
Many people find that assimilating and blending into “American culture” is better in the long run and that in order to be “normal”, you must fit in. On the other hand, it is very difficult to do so without losing yourself along the way. To be American does not mean that you cannot identify with your culture, as the two are not mutually exclusive.
The majority of those who identify with multiple cultures or are children of immigrants go through this when growing up in predominantly white schools, communities, and especially suburbs. You often feel that you live in two different worlds and that these two cannot mix. You think that if you can identify with one or the other, then you will feel at peace. The thing is, people will always have something to say about you in either context, being either not white enough with how you were raised, or too whitewashed, when you come to find that you aren’t as proficient in your culture or languages as you had thought.
This is why it is so important to understand that these struggles are not your fault. Being brought up in a place that is predominantly white and disconnected from different cultures may make you feel like an outsider, but the majority of second-generation immigrants feel the same way. By connecting yourself with people who share these conflicts, you feel like you belong, despite the cultural differences.
By understanding these troubles caused by casual racism, beauty standards, and whitewashing, we as a society can move forward into an era of empathy, listening to voices that are generally ignored or unheard. To connect with different cultures and people, it is crucial to educate yourself on each background, along with listening to voices of minorities. When we listen to these struggles, we can respect and understand each other in new ways, and find that under all of this, we are the same. Human.
“RACISM – Sometimes it’s subtle”; Photo by Elphie89
Transcriber, writer, , editor, poet
Bella is a student at Meridian World School. She spends her time playing music, reading, and writing. She is passionate about raising awareness of the issues in her community, along with taking action against injustices.