Decline to Answer

Hello. My name is Sharece and I am white. This is something I wouldn’t have to say if I walked up to you. You could probably tell that I am white by the fact that you have to put on your shades when you see me. My skin is so white that when I was in second grade, my friend Curtis called me mayonnaise or wait, was I tomato? I’m actually not sure about this because although I am white, my skin can have two shades: pasty white and ketchup. That’s right. My skin is so white that it can turn red within seconds of being in the sun. My skin just wasn’t made for the sunshine. My skin basically requires that I stay inside for 365 days out of the year. I imagine that my parents moved us to Dayton, Oregon specifically because they knew how many days it rained and they realized they wouldn’t have to worry about my sunburn being a problem anymore.

For the last few years, I’ve suffered a very serious disease. I call this disease black envy. I have wanted to be black so much that I’ve told people that I meet that I’m half black and that for some reason, I just turned out this white. I’ve been so inspired by the equal rights movement of the 1960s and the maids in The Help that I have wished to be a part of this culture. I’ve wanted to be black. But I’m not. My parents are very much not black. My mom comes from a very American upbringing of bootleggers from Montana and Christ-loving farmers in Idaho. My dad comes from German folks that followed the Oregon Trail out to Yamhill County where most of the family still resides today. My mother doesn’t dance well because she grew up in a Nazarene family and when she was a kid Nazarenes couldn’t dance, wear earrings, or put on fingernail polish. My dad doesn’t dance well because he’s white. There’s no other excuse for it. My dad is farmer-tan white. When you see him at Wilco, he might appear to be a bit Mexican because of his face, neck, and lower arms, but if you see him in shorts, even the large quantities of brown hair on his legs can’t hide the pasty white of his skin. We are white folks. We’re not mean or prejudiced. We don’t believe that because we’re white, we belong in castles our ancestors built (in fact, I’m looking at finding some low-income housing in Hillsboro, Oregon where I will most definitely be the minority). We’re just normal, silly, strange, bad-dancing white folk. And that’s cool.

Recently, I decided to give up my black envy. Michelle Obama and Queen Latifah may still be two of my great heroes, but that doesn’t mean that I have to look like them to inspire others. I’ve been told before that I’ve inspired a few Ukrainian kids with my spunky personality and pasty white skin. That’s what it’s all about. Inspire people no matter what your skin, hair-color, age, weight or gender. That’s when I decided to stop declining to answer the race question on job applications. I really don’t think it should be an issue. It doesn’t matter what color of skin I have. I’m a hard worker. Why do you want to know my skin color? But then I talked to my sister. She told me what was up. In Idaho, racism is a very real thing. And you don’t just get judged by your skin color. You get judged for being a woman, a Mormon, or an environmentalist. It’s crazy. I can’t imagine this. I had thought that this past year, idealism had left me, but it hasn’t. I am still just as much of a crazy idealist as I was in 2005 when I joined Peace Corps for the first time. I believe that people can be good if they choose to. I believe that one act at a time, we can make our world a better place to live. I believe that one smile, one hello at a time, we can make someone else’s life better. But apparently, not all people believe this. It’s hard to take. I’m sure I’ll cry about this in the future. Today, I’m going to push for a better today and tomorrow… I’ll deal with tomorrow later.



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