I am fully aware of how I look. Well, thanks to mirrors, I know how big my nose is, how small my eyes are, how uneven my teeth are, how my great hair flows when it is windy, how my beard looks and how gray hairs keep making unannounced appearances in my beard as I age. Why am I talking about my looks? Well, my goal is to talk about looks and what they mean to you and especially to others.
It is fair to say that you see yourself in a specific way. Your own identity is based on your experiences, your family, your past and present environment, your education, your religion or lack thereof, your actions and so much more. That is how you see yourself and nothing will ever matter more. But we live with others, in a social environment, filled with people who are as different as colors in a rainbow.
Now, how do others see you? It isn’t as important as you see yourself, but it matters a great deal. I can see people already saying “NO ONE DEFINES ME! I DEFINE MYSELF. I DON’T CARE HOW OTHERS SEE ME!” and you are right. People’s opinions shouldn’t define you. That is noble to say. Yet, that is not how the world works, whether we care to admit it or not. I am not advocating to succumb to other people’s definition of who you are, I am simply stating that you should not ignore them. I repeat: DO NOT IGNORE HOW OTHERS SEE YOU. You could always listen to them and then disregard their opinions. However, walking around as if other people’s views and perceptions of your don’t exist, that is the kind of blindness one should never encourage.
On a personal note, my life has been funny to say the least. How do people see me? Please keep in mind that I look beige, sometimes some people say yellow, because of my good-looking dark-skinned Burundian father and my pale gorgeous Greek mother. Allow me to share some of my experiences. Here it goes: I am black according to white people, mostly Europeans and north Americans. I am Latino especially Dominican or Puerto Rican whenever I am in the US, especially in New York according to white people, black people and even Latino people themselves, who tend to speak to me in Spanish. I have been called Brazilian by Brazilians. I am white in the eyes of black Africans and my fellow Burundian countrymen. I am an Arab according to black Africans and especially people from Maghreb (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco) who oddly enough speak to me in Arabic at times. An Indian lady once asked me if I was Indian, which sincerely surprised me, as I never thought I looked Indian. To my fellow Greeks, I am black. To my fellow Canadians, depending on who I ask, I am everything and everyone. No one ever says “you look half Greek and half Burundian” because frankly, what does a half Greek and half Burundian look like???? There is no manual for that.
That is how people see me. I cannot participate in their definition of myself (not that I would ever want to) because it happens in their minds. People define others based on their own filters and experiences, which will determine how they will treat me. I have had people be racist to me by calling me nigger, I have had people calling me white devil (that is the most accurate American translation of “sale blanc” which means dirty white in French), I have been called dirty Muslim, fucking Arab, and so much more yet, no one has ever been physically violent with me, thanks to the Gods. On the other hand, I have had people call me wonderful things, which I will not divulge as I do not want to add to my existing but slight narcissism. I have great friends, family on both sides that see just the loud Freeman who cannot stop cursing and making jokes (excellent ones!). Strangers come up to me, just curious and wanting to know more about what and who I am. People are always wondering about my identity and background and nothing pleases me more than explaining to them who I am.
I am sure that I am not the only one who sees themselves one way and then society gives them a whole other definition of who they are. People put us in boxes. I do it myself. I put people in boxes just like everyone. People put us in categories and subcategories they see fit. Any bias, prejudice, preconceived idea will be used to define you. I could walk around ignoring other people’s opinions. I always choose not to. I am fully aware of how people can perceive me and that can dictate how I treat them unfortunately. Do I miss the mark sometimes? I certainly do. Yet, I wouldn’t want be blind to other people’s opinions. The latter don’t define me, not in the least possible way, yet I am acutely aware of what is going on around me. Perhaps it is about my own physical safety. Perhaps it stems from growing up being different from all the other kids. The only person that looked like me was my brother. I remember finding solace in his company when I was mad at how people treated me, because I believed that somehow, he was the only that could get it.
I am simply trying to decode undecipherable ways people see others, which, isn’t an easy task. You can never know what others are thinking and that can be misleading at times. I don’t have kids but one day, I will have to teach them how the outside world will see them. They must know as I did so they can avoid certain traps. One could argue that I will be putting prejudice in their minds, forcing them to expect people to treat them based on their looks. That argument could very well be right, but I frankly don’t give a single fuck. I would rather have them be safe more than anything else. I want them to be able to verbally disarm those with prejudice. I want them to be able to talk to those that might hate them. I want them to use more than their fists to navigate through life. As we have all witnessed lately, racism and prejudice aren’t dead. They are still alive, ready to strike at anytime, even if the world is more mixed than ever, racism and prejudice still linger.
I don’t want to raise people who are suspicious of everyone, including their own shadows. I want them to be smart, to be able read situations and to be alert. I will teach them to treat others with respect, decency and understanding. Mostly, people’s hostility is born out of ignorance. I will teach them to see the good in people and befriend anyone, without looking at the same barriers that I will tell them exist. Complicated, right? Well, such is life.
I know that some signs shouldn’t be ignored. I am talking about those who might try to bully you and be mean, racist, sexist, homophobic, and so much more. Those acts are attributed to a small group of loud individuals. Their noise shouldn’t drown the noise made by the decent, caring, loving and open-minded people. The negative noise shouldn’t cloud my kids’ entire positive outlook on life. In the end, my kids will have to do what I did: live with the well-meaning kind people and the bigots that are out there. They will need to keep their heads clear and that will take practice. That will take time. That is a delicate balance to maintain but I have maintained it. Why wouldn’t they?
Just one man’s opinion.
Now, smile and go on with your day.