“Mom! Do you see that girl over there? I want my hair to look exactly like hers! It’s so thick and she has the prettiest curls I have ever seen.” “Lauren,” I said sadly. “You will never have that beautiful hair. “Why?” She asked. “Because she’s black. And black people have the best hair ever. And while we are on the topic, you should know that black people sing better than white people do, they dance much better than white folks, and they can name their kids the coolest names ever and totally make it work. “
Nodding in agreement, my little pre-pubescent teenager said to me. “It’s true. And they can also hide their pimples much better than I can.”
I recently saw “Motown The Musical,” which tells the true story of an all-black record label trying to become a part of an all-white music business. Sam asked me how the boy playing young Michael Jackson could hit and hold the high notes so amazing well. “He’s my age. How come he can still sing so high?” “Because he’s black,” I said, “They can do that. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
Are these inappropriate conversations for a mother to have with her child? Some may say yes. But I don’t think so. We live in a world where majority rules. Differences are not celebrated. We rely on negative stereotypes to define minorities or anyone we don’t understand. Often, it’s based on ignorance. But I think it’s also rooted in jealousy.
I myself have some serious ethnic minority envy. White people just can’t make anything sound as cool or funky as the black folk do. When the black actors on my new favorite t.v. show “Empire” argue with each other, it’s intense. It’s powerful. It’s passionate. When the actors on my other favorite show about the music business “Nashville” argue with each other about country music, they are just shouting very loud. (And let’s face it, no one can pull off names like “Cookie” and “Luscious” the way the actors on “Empire” can. If a white person called herself “Cookie, no one would take her seriously. On “Empire,” Cookie is the most well-respected, most powerful character on the show. )
Let’s face it: in the story of Dorothy blowing away to Oz and trying to go back home,”The Wiz” is a lot of fun. It makes me happy. “The Wizard of Oz” just stresses me out.
My ethnic envy, however, is not limited to one specific minority. Let’s be honest, no one can make tortillas or burritos like Hispanic people. And true, a lot of successful professional people are Asian or Indian-but that’s because they are the hardest working students I have ever seen. And let’s be honest, we would all rather go to a Jewish deli or an Irish pub because “those people” know how to run ’em. They just do. It’s in their blood.
We are finally living in an era where a former Olympic athlete can turn to his country and proudly admit that he is different. Unlike other decades, today he is being celebrated for revealing what makes him unique. In turn, our future generations will have a transgender idol. Someone they can look up to and say, “That’s just how I feel too.” They can triumphantly embrace what makes them stand out from the crowd. It’s amazing.
Let’s keep it going. We need to keep cheering on everyone who shows who they are and what they are made of.
I am envious of anyone who has special talents. I am green with envy of people who can do things and say things that I can’t. In Zumba class, I imagine I can dance like Latin women. In my shower, I pretend I can sing like Diana Ross. But I can’t. As I get older, I am figuring out who I am and what makes me who I am. I have stopped trying to hide the things that make me stand out from the crowd. I’m learning how to be proud of who I am.
So cheers to Bruce Jenner and to everyone out there who shows off their true colors. Let’s celebrate what makes us different. Because when I stop and take a look around, I realize that in this rainbow sherbet of a world, white people just feel vanilla.