I grew up in a bubble. All of my friends were white. The majority of them were Christians, predominantly Southern Baptists who were very involved in their churches. Most of my friends’ families looked just like mine: happily married parents, a sibling or two, a dog, all living under the roof of a three bedroom two bath house. When they were involved in recitals or football games, their parents came to cheer them on, usually arriving in a sensible used car. Basically, Whitehouse used to look like a scene straight out of Southern Living with a Brady Bunch cast. (At least from where I was sitting!) I knew that other kinds of people existed but I didn’t really know anyone who was different than me. I’m not saying that is all bad. There is great comfort and safety in surrounding yourself with people who are like you. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault that I didn’t know other types of people, it was just the reality of this area at the time and the way southern culture worked in the 1970s and 1980s.
But then the lens I was looking through changed!
Late in high school, I learned that several of my friends’ parents were divorced. My (then) fiance’s parents divorced a year before we got married. I realized that marrying him would mean accepting that divorce would always be a part our lives. That sort of scared me. Did I have to wear a special shirt when we visited? Would they serve different foods? (I’m teasing of course, but that’s about how ridiculous my fears were.) When I graduated from high school and attended Stephen F. Austin, I was suddenly thrust into a world of different colors, different ethnicities and cultures. Some of our sweetest friends in those early years of marriage looked different from us. They had different skin tones and different cultural backgrounds. We became very close with other couples who attended different types of churches (or no church at all). As we began having children and got our first computer, I found myself diving into a world of mommy email groups and websites for parenting tips, all filled with people who were very different than me. One of my dearest friends was a Jewish man, a single dad who lives in Los Angeles. (Really? Could his family look any more different than mine and my husband’s?) Our children shared a birth defect and he had all sorts of information that I couldn’t find anywhere else. We are still friends today!
After having three children of our own, Larry and I considered adopting. It broke my heart to see that children with a different skin color are considered hard to place, less likely to be adopted, simply because they are not white. Are they somehow less lovable, less needful of a family? No way! (Larry and I ended up accepting two children into our home, but they were very similar to us in many ways. Our ideas didn’t change, it’s just the way things worked out.) Both of my sisters later foster parented and adopted children who form a brilliant rainbow in our family pictures.
As my kids have grown up, they have been exposed to a wide variety of friends through their schools. Whitehouse is no longer an all white, all Southern Baptist, all nuclear family town. Families from so many different parts of the world live here and form a valuable part of our community. I am thrilled that our kids are growing up color blind, able to see their friends for the person they are, not for the things that make them different. They see past the different skin tones, the special clothing worn by friends from other religions, the unusual foods brought in lunch boxes that are so different from the things we eat and different home situations. They accept their friends, differences and all. I think sometimes we need to take a cue from our kids. They really “get it.” Inside, we are all the same. Of course it’s impossible to completely ignore differences between us and I’m not suggesting that you do. But rather than rejecting someone different, we can embrace differences and learn from each other!
Are you a blonde haired, blue eyed, white southern Christian? When is the last time you attended a bar mitzvah? Or a quinceañera? Have you eaten food cooked by your middle eastern neighbors? Have you attempted to learn about your neighbors who speak another language? There is beauty in living in this world of differences. Embrace it! I bet you will find that all the “different” people in your life are more like you than you may know.
Note: I originally published this article in July of 2012. Since that time, I have seen it play out in my life and those of friends around me over and over. I am re-sharing it now as a reminder to all of us. Differences come in all sorts of packages. Open those packages and enjoy!
(Contact Liz by email at Lizreeves2@aol.com)