Not long ago I was part of a conversation that included the phrase, “oh, you mean the white girl” in trying to identify a new staff member. I’d never thought about it but realized that the majority of the employees are not “white” and “a white girl” was an easy identifier. Really made me think about how cool the world has become 🙂 And my experiences being a visible minority.
The first time I realized how oblivious I was to skin colour was decades ago in a bar in LA. I was there on a business trip and hanging out with a young colleague. I wanted him to feel comfortable that he wasn’t stuck with me all night so I said, “you can just tell girls that I am your sister.” He looked at me quizzically and I got the point so I said, “OK, tell them we don’t have the same father” 😉
I have been a minority a number of times now but one of the experiences that really stands out for me is going to China in 2008. It was just after the Olympics and China was in the news all the time so it seemed like everyone was traveling to China. But once I arrived, I quickly noted that, as a little white redhead, I was a huge novelty.
I first clued in to that on my run up the Great Wall. I took a tour and was convinced to do the more challenging route so was practically running up the Great Wall to reach the high point for a panoramic photo quickly enough to get back in time to not miss the bus back to Beijing.
I’d just taken my scenery shot and was about to head down when some teenage boys made hand gestures that suggested they wanted a photo. I assumed they wanted a photo of the two of them at the top of the Great Wall. But the hand gestures implied something was off. They wanted ME in the photo! Hardly my best look but the first boy seemed quite pleased so his friend, who was obviously more shy, decided that he wanted to pose with me too. It became a theme of my visit and how I learned my only Mandarin – xie xie – thank you…
The coolest part of my trip to China was coming back to Vancouver and randomly walking down Seymour Street just as the language schools let out. It was pretty obvious in China that I was a minority but I walked for at least 5 blocks feeling like I was still in China… and it wasn’t jet lag 🙂
The world is changing. It used to be run by old white guys. I would really encourage everyone to get out of your own neighbourhood – where you are likely the majority – and be a minority – at least for a week. It really expands your perspective to get out of your comfort zone. Enjoy being a visible minority while you have the opportunity 😉 My goal is to encourage the world to intermix so successfully that the concept of being a visible minority – or a “white girl” – will become obsolete…