Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: White (10/29/09)
TITLE: White, and Curiously So...
By Micheline Murray
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It’s funny, isn’t it? I believe that most of us born with Caucasian skin never give it a second thought. I know that in all of my seventeen years of small-town living I never did! Until the summer of 1982 in the capitol city of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
It was almost the end of their school term, but as an exchange student for the summer I looked forward to attending this last week simply for the experience. I also desperately hoped to make some friends!
As a teacher whisked me across the campus to my classroom, I felt as if all 6,000 pairs of girls’ eyes bored straight through to the depths of my fears and insecurities. Oh, she walked me through a sea of white---white uniforms that were, indeed, “uniform.” Plain, simple white uniforms everywhere my terrified eyes dared to glance. My mother and I had so carefully chosen my white skirt and top as instructed, for modesty, and ease of washing out by hand. But the matching eyelet blouse and long skirt looked showy, pretentious even, as it swished back and forth with my every step.
I would have turned on a dime and run away, but somehow my legs continued moving and my brain focused again on the teacher’s voice… “This will be your class,” was all I processed, and then she was gone. The classroom teacher (and the Lord!) seated me next to a wonderful girl named Pushpika who completely took me under her wing. Throughout the course of the day, especially at lunchtime when we could really talk, I learned that while my too-dressy outfit stood out in a way that wasn’t well-received by many who thought I was “snooty,” most of the girls’ stares were of genuine curiosity. You see, mine was the only skin out of all 6,000 plus girls that blended in perfectly with the white fabric in which I was clothed.
The skin that surrounded me on every side varied from the lightest hues of brown to the darkest blue-black. I learned that those who hung back and continued to stare had most likely never seen a person of my color face to face, but probably only on television or tourists passing through. Yet here I was sitting, walking and eating next to them; they simply didn’t know what to make of me.
By the end of the week more than one gathered the courage to approach, usually in a group of two or three, and ask permission to touch my arm, my hands or my face. Their hesitant outreaches grew bolder as I was examined from every angle. Every physical interaction included intense eye-contact as each of my new peers reached their own conclusions about me. Because all of them spoke English, by the time my “inspection” was over we were usually talking and laughing together, the barrier broken.
Once the color issue was past, we were equally and frantically curious about each other’s cultures in the little time we had left of the week. Our lunchtime conversations became much more of an education to us all than anything inside of the classroom!
That week’s experiences allowed me to relax for the remainder of the summer and accept people’s reactions as they saw me for the first time. Rather than something that came between us, the difference in our skin often became the open door for many beautiful friendships, some that will continue eternally!
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