Welcome to the Club–The Other Side of Color Blind–Part One

(You’ll also want to read Part Two:  Embracing Change–Five Things You Can Do to Address Diversty and Part Three:  Three Reasons You Must Discuss Racism and Inequality with your Children in this three part series that addresses our assumptions, our reactions to prejudice and our identities.)

Part One:  Awareness

Walking down Bruin Walk, it felt isolating.  Lonely, and trying to find my place at UCLA, I considered joining a club.  Each organization, separated into cultural affiliation, filled some social niche.  It was frustrating.  I couldn’t find my place.  Why did it have to be this way?

Welcome to the club, Aubrey.”  She said.  It was an interesting choice of words, seeing it was eight years after my experience at UCLA.  I had reached my breaking point.  I had come to my friend to vent about the insensitivities, and what felt like an often purposeful inability to correctly  articulate my new last name.

I had gotten married over the summer, and returned to my teaching position with excitement about my new identity.  To my complete surprise, no one could get my name right.  I had been working with my colleagues for five years–they knew me–we had conversations in the hall–and they didn’t have the kindness, the thoughtfulness to correctly remember my new last name.  To make it worse, every school form or announcement had a different version.  They didn’t say it correctly.  They didn’t spell it correctly.  In fact, they couldn’t even spell it at all–often mistaking it for a country.  The problem?  I’m not a country.

With the continuation of the school year, the assumptions increased…

Oh wow!  Can you teach my son Spanish?  I love how you say your last name. I teach science. I don’t even know Spanish.

Are you related to the famous pitcher? No.  I’m not. Would they have asked that of Ms. Smith?

Um.  You don’t look like a…. What was I supposed to look like?

Marrying a Mexican-American man, my identity changed.  I had no idea the transition was coming until it landed–right in the pit of my stomach.

The assumptions.
The subtleties.
Made about me.

I hadn’t experienced this before.

So, you see, I am an adult, and even though my feelings were hurt, I could acknowledge that my colleagues were busy, they were running through the halls, distracted with the approaching school year.  My student’s parents, despite the fact that we lived in Southern California, maybe they weren’t familiar with the pronunciation.  So, I patiently and politely corrected them.  Again and again.

Then one day, I stopped.  I had enough.  I considered what this might be like to live a life this way, constantly clarifying, constantly guarded.  Did this happen to my students of color too?  Their parents?  Did they experience these inconsistencies?  These assumptions?  What about other colleagues?  Had I made these same types of inaccuracies?

The answer, much to my disappointment, was yes.

So, I sat there, with my sweet and loving friend, as she welcomed me to this new club, this club on the other side of color blind, and I cried.  I cried for the privileges and freedoms I have always had.  I cried for the assumptions I unknowingly and unintentionally made about people and their identities, their cultures.  I cried for the assumptions made of me, of my family, and of so many others.  And I knew, change starts with me.

Hello My Name Is

What does it mean to you to be on the other side of color blind?  How have the assumptions made about your identity made you into the person you are today?

Be sure to check in tomorrow for the continuation of Welcome to the Club–The Other Side of Color Blind with Part 2:  Embracing Change–Five Things You Can Do to Address Diversity.

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