Thisanjali Gangoda

For the past two months I’ve been volunteering at a local shelter doing poetry workshops twice a week. After a workshop the other day, I was coloring with the kids in the living room, and a girl suddenly turned to me and said, “So . you’re black, right?” I was stunned at how forward she was, and confused as well.

I said, “Pardon?” staring at her for a moment. She laughed, rolling off the couch and replied, “Oh, I know! Your mom’s black; and you’re dad’s white! You’re mixed!” Still surprised, I carefully said, “Well, no. My family’s from Sri Lanka. It’s a little island off the coast of India.” This time, she was the one who looked confused. “Sri Lanka.” I repeated ” … an island off of India. Do you know where India is?”

The girl, who seemed about 10 years old, burst into laughter and ran around the room sputtering, “No, nope, you’re black!” She was so innocent in her conviction that I didn’t know how to correct her false impressions of my race. She didn’t mean anything by thinking that I’m black; she just finds my appearance to be like that of a black person. So it had me wondering, what does it really matter?

Race is defined as a group of people who relate to each other through similar physical characteristics and sometimes shared history, culture and heritage. It’s a modern divider of humankind, a bit of an arbitrary term used to classify people for the sake of simplicity. Though most people would think otherwise, race has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with defining, discriminating and assuming that there are obvious differences between people.

We would all like to think that we don’t have racial biases or stereotypes swimming in our heads, but how can we not? The idea of race is thrown around in nearly all forms of entertainment and public discourse, regardless of whether we’re conscious of it. Even a 10-year-old has some idea of race, and is strong enough in her belief to vocalize it without any hesitation.

What does it matter if we’re black, white, brown, yellow, blue, mixed, whatever? What does it do for humanity to define ourselves by the color of our skin, other than create false senses of superiority by way of slavery and social inequality? It’s so ingrained in our culture and mindset to the point where we’ve allowed racial standards to become institutionalized within government, law and society, without much question as to consequences.

There are no natural inferiorities or sub-populations of the human race, as we are the most alike of animal species. Yet we insist to use race as an excuse to allow people to have different opportunities and access to resources based on the color of their skin.

The history of humanity is at the point where we’re constantly readdressing past grievances against populations of people, and we aren’t handling the issues the way we should. Race is a powerful social tool, and pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t enough. It’s time for everyone to admit and understand the racism that lies within, to change our perceptions of each other and to solve inequalities that have become inherent.

If a 10-year-old thinks I look like a black person, fine. But I worry if the day comes where she begins to think that black people are a certain way, and that they’re limited to a certain type of behavior and lifestyle. People are people despite all the absurd notions we have of each other. If you take the time to know and understand an individual, that’s what truly matters. It’ll have nothing to do with race.

Thisanjali Gangoda is a senior political science major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].