This is an essay I wrote for a Hispanic Heritage Month essay contest at my school. I won an honorable mention for it. It isn’t my best piece, but I did want to share it with you. I have been thinking about this topic a lot and I realized it was not something I speak about often. However, I do hope you find this essay thought provoking. I’ve been very caught up this week in a mass amount of homework + NaNoWriMo so writing new content will not happen this week, so I leave you with this essay about diversity and representation instead.
Growing up as a white, middle class, mostly privileged girl, I was never made
aware of the challenges that people of other races face in regards to diversity. I walked through
life mostly ignorant of their struggle. I didn’t know what it was like to not be able to identify
with people in movies or characters in video games when all the protagonists were a carbon copy
of me. They had the same blonde hair and light skin. I didn’t appreciate the features I had that
would, by the world’s warped standards, consider me beautiful.
“It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural
level, any reflection of themselves.” Junot Diaz said this quote in a speech and it opened my eyes
to a reality beyond my own experience. See, in my life, all I ever saw was my reflection. Girls of
color struggled without a voice and without representation. They were isolated from seeing
themselves. If they were without a mirror, than I was the opposite; I was locked inside a room
full of them. I was forced, day in and day out to stare at this reflection of myself until I despised
what I saw.
Everywhere I turned there was a reflection of me. There was another movie about a white
girl and white girl problems. There were advertisements catering to me. There were books about
me. There were products and clothes all designed with me in mind. It’s suffocating. It’s
exhausting. Seeing so much of myself leaves me sick in the stomach. Nothing is ever different or
new. I am stripped of my individuality as our culture continues to send messages that tell me I
am merely one voice in a sea of others. I am nothing.
There is nothing interesting about one blonde girl in a crowd full of them. People looked
just like me. The characters in the novels I read were so much like me I was forced to deal with
the fact that I may not be as great as I like to think I am. Self hatred is always rooted in pride.
Self hatred comes when the illusion of who we thought we were gets shattered by reality.
Not only that, but the complete whitewashing of our society leaves me ignorant and in
some cases, naive. I lack the ability to connect with people of color because I am so obsessed
with the image of myself. We have created a system that thrives off of our lack of knowledge.
We know nothing of the struggles that other people face because we are so hyperfocused on us.
We live to please ourselves. We work to take care of ourselves. How many times in our day do
we take to think about someone else? Do we even know what it’s like to consider a point of view
that isn’t our own?
That’s the worst part though. I can claim to hate myself and be sick of the obsession with
white people, but I do not know who I would be without it. I would not be able to live in a world
where I was not constantly romanticized. People like me have been privileged for so long it’s
embedded into who we are. If people like me were not on the pedestal of the American dream, I
would be utterly lost. When I stop to think about this idea, it occurs to me that this is what people
of color feel like every day of their lives. They live without any indication in our society that
they are here.
Yet I will go about my day and feel pity for myself and the so called struggles I go
through of being just like everyone else. I will pretend that I know what it’s like to feel
misrepresented in media or culture. Even after I come to understand that there are other people in
the world who have it worse than me, I will continue to feel sorry for myself. Maybe I’ll shed a
tear as I stare at the TV full of commercials with thin, white, females. I’ll read another young
adult novel about a white girl and her dramatic love life. In any sense, I will forget about the
world around me once again and feed into the notion that I am the only person that matters.
You can make a monster of a person by denying them a reflection. You can leave them
worthless and feeling alone. You can refuse to give them the basic human right of
acknowledging their existence. The second way to create a monster is by making them believe
they are nothing special. We are all the same.