I recently came across an ad that showed a picture of a young woman, a celebrity, I suppose, though I’d never heard of her, and the caption read that so-and-so was half black. And I wondered, why was this was supposed to be so interesting?

If race really doesn’t matter—if skin color is supposed to be disregarded, to where it is as nominally interesting as eye color and just as unimportant—then why are such ads out there? What difference does it make, if she has black ancestors or white? Does her black ancestry make her more interesting? More relatable?

Or is this supposed to be an inspiration, or a reminder to all those who are color-conscious that someone they otherwise consider beautiful has a diverse background? Would they make ads saying a different celebrity is half Briton? Half Welsh? Would we be as interested then, even though the heritage is just as rich and diverse?

To me, it seems that such things would serve to fuel a racial consciousness, making us more aware of the differences that separate us. “They come from a different background,” we’re reminded; “And this other celebrity is dating someone who’s ethnically diverse—a mixed couple.” But isn’t this just separating us again? Telling us we can’t really know them, or ever hope to understand them, because they aren’t like us?

Rather than being a celebration of our differences, it seems like a reminder. She isn’t just another human being, the ad tells us. Her ancestors were a world away from yours. She may look like you, with the same brown hair and brown eyes, but you have very different pasts…and how is that supposed to help?

Perhaps this is why I look books so much; you might be told the eye color, the skin color, the ethnic background, but then you have a chance to move past that, to read the other person’s thoughts and hear their story. This character opens up and shares his story, regardless of your gender. That character tells us what happened to her and gives the same details, whether the reader is young or old, without any distinction based on skin color or ethnic heritage.

And as important as the physical details are in a story, they aren’t constantly before us. Our minds eye sees them and then filters them out, moving on to other things that matter, and thus we learn to empathize with someone who may have lived hundreds of years before us or light years away.

Reading books is practice in seeing others as “just like us,” in sharing feelings and emotions with someone who may be very different, and it helps us come to realize that what ultimately matters is the human heart, not the skin that covers it or the culture that created it. We’re reminded that, deep down, we aren’t so different at all.

Copyright 2015 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by MMAARRSS, Creative Commons

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