We are taught as children that differences are bad. We are taught that different is less, what’s different doesn’t belong. An entire generation had this drilled into them by previous generations. We all can sing the same children’s song: “One of these things is not like the others, One of these things just doesn’t belong, Can you tell which thing is not like the others, By the time I finish my song?”
The fact that we have been taught such a screwy lesson does not make my being a woman of color into some kind of problem to be solved. When I am told by someone that when she sees me, she doesn’t see my color, I hear, “I can’t see your color because if I allow myself to see your color, I will see something negative.”
For years I struggled to show my white sisters why being told this was not a compliment. But each time I tried to explain, my white sisters got sad.
I eventually received a teaching tool when (once again) a white sister, Sara, told me at one of our anti-racism training events that she did not see my color. We took a break and during that break, I prayed about this and I was given an insight, a teaching tool.
When we reconvened, I asked Sara to picture herself being the only woman in a meeting full of men. She said she knew that experience firsthand because she was the first woman to serve on her church’s council many years ago. I invited her to imagine herself sitting in that meeting, and I asked her to imagine the president of the church council turning to her and saying, “Sara, when I see you, I don’t see you as a woman.”
Sara blinked hard. I asked, “Would you take that as a compliment?” The air was suddenly sucked out of the room as all the women gasped–and Sara replied, “No, of course not.”
I placed my hand on her shoulder and said, “It is just that way for me, because my color is as much a part of who I am as my being a woman is.”
We embraced. I was filled with joy because I was seen in living color that day!
Inez Torres Davis is director for justice, Women of the ELCA