I believe African Americans are different, but I am not a racist. Asians are different, Indians are different, Latinos/Latinas too. I also believe gays are different, but I am not homophobic. Transgenders, Bisexuals, yes, they’re different. I believe that a man is incredibly different from a woman too, but I am not sexist. I hear so much talk these days about how “we are all the same”. People proudly claim that their eyes don’t see color. Personally, I see a whole lot of colors. I see a whole lot of shapes and sizes too. I see a whole lot of “different”. Over time I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are afraid of the word, “different”. We live in a society where everybody strives to be like the person next to them instead of embracing their individuality. We are all human, that is fact, but I resist to agree that we, as humans, are all the same. The problem does not lie in the recognition of differences within the human race, the problem lies in the connotation assigned to the word “different” itself.
When a society sets standards & expectations based off of it’s “ideal human” it is suppressing the natural potential we all carry within ourselves. We are unique beings, not created to abide by an immutable set of standards. The truth is that the only person capable of setting realistic expectations for a person is that person themselves.
The United States of America is a diverse country. I can not personally attest to societies in which I have not lived, although I do know that the fear of “different” is prevalent at different levels throughout the world. I can, however, certainly attest to society in The United States. Growing up in “The Land of Opportunity” means encountering all kinds of “different” people, & that is a wonderful thought until you realize that the vast majority of American society appreciates only one type of person. Furthermore, it is expected to be that person regardless of the fact that many are incapable of fitting the description.
I am a Latina who grew up in San Diego, CA. Considered a culturally diverse city, you’d expect the “tolerance” level to be high. I will say it is truly one of the better places in the United States for a minority to establish themselves. Still, however, I grew up thinking I had to be White. Nobody ever told me specifically I needed to be White, but the boys in my class only liked one “type” of girl. She had straight, thin hair that looked effortlessly perfect, clear, hairless skin, an effortlessly skinny body with long legs and small, tasteful features- the boys in my class liked a White American girl. Unfortunately for me, I had wavy hair that effortlessly tangled itself, a collection of hair removers/razors, short, tiger striped legs, and not-so-subtle features. Their type of girl was everything that I was not. If I had grown up in Mexico, I might likely tell a different story. I might not have felt so out of place because I would have been much more like the “norm” of society. My genetic make-up made it impossible for me to ever acquire the slender body type or features I so desperately wanted to have. No matter how many hours I spent in the gym, my thighs were still bigger than everybody else’s; no matter how much money I spent on thinning out the hair on my head, it always grew back to the way it was. I was painfully different from most everyone around me, & so I grew to fear the thought of anybody noticing that. If only somebody appreciated my uniqueness.
I knew a girl once; she was the epitome of what this world needs, what I needed; she was not afraid of “different”. She was beautiful, fitting the description of the White American girl so easily due to the fact that a White American girl is precisely what she was. Now, get this:
“Varsity Cheerleading Captain Falls For Scrawny Theatre Nerd”.
It might as well have been a top story in the school newspaper. It was a significant event to enough people considering the whispers heard as she’d walk through the halls holding his hand. The remarks made behind her back, often coming from her “friends”, were some of the most ignorant words I’ve ever heard.
“Why would she date him?”
“I don’t even know her anymore.”
“He doesn’t fit in with us.”
If “ideal girl” and “ideal boy” got together that would make for the “ideal relationship”, & therefore it is likely that nobody would cause such a fuss. In fact, it would more than likely spark an admiration in the eyes of her peers. Everyone would talk about how cute & perfect they are for each other- why? Because that’s normal. Hardly anybody appreciates “different”, so when somebody actually does, it’s not easy to process in our minds; it’s just not what we’re used to.
I asked her once in the most sincere way what drew her to him. She told me it was the fact that he was “different”. She loved that he didn’t even try to conform to the “ideal boy” image of society; he was unapologetically himself. She believed the world lacked such individuality & that it needs more people like him.
I think the world needs more of both of them.
Instead of being afraid of “different”, I’ve learned to appreciate “different”. People pursuing their unique passions, people speaking their native language, people loving who they want to love, people dressing how they want to dress, the raw, the real, people who are unapologetically themselves, people who aren’t afraid to stand out, people who love stand-outs, these are the people our world needs.
What if we, as a society, focused less on tolerance and more on appreciation? Everybody deserves people in their lives who appreciate them for who they are. How can you appreciate somebody for who they are when you refuse to even see them for who they are. Disregarding a person’s differences is hardly different from judging the differences themselves because it implies that we see their differences in a negative light, so why do we disregard them? Fear is the culprit of this idea; People will naturally fear what they don’t know. Comfort has become a symbol of success in today’s society, but what good does comfort really do? Of course, comfort is a wonderful thing- for a moment; but does a person grow through living their lives comfortably? Does the mind expand being fed the same information day after day? Does a person live up to their full potential by confining themselves? If we are all the same, then what is the point of interaction? & What is a human without the very thing that makes us human- our ability to empathize with one another; connect with one another. If our differences give us purpose, could it be necessary that we, as a society, move beyond tolerance? It is only logical that we show appreciation to the very thing that keeps our lives from being a meaningless bore. Overlooking differences is nothing but a cryptic form of hate. Redefining “different” is essential in order to advance towards a world free of racism, discrimination, sexism, & all hateful matters alike.
Don’t be afraid to see the world in color. Don’t be afraid of “different”.