I recently listened to a National Public Radio podcast called Only Human on the subject of “The Ugliest Person You’ve Never Met.” While the subject of the discussion was a man with a facial disfigurement, much of the conversation could have been paralleled with living as a minority. One line, in particular, replayed in my head for days:
“ There’s this little lie we tell ourselves: that looks don’t matter. But what happens when the way you look forces you to confront that every day? Even if you can get past it, what about the rest of us?”
Recent events—particularly the tragic interactions between police and black men—have highlighted the disparity between how people of color and white people are treated in our society. This importance of continuing the conversation around this issue became increasingly more apparent this morning, when CNN posted a story about an African American woman who was kicked out of a Victoria's Secret store, seemingly for no reason. While racism is an issue I could never address in just one blog post, I do encounter daily both ignorance and disregard for the experiences of people of color. Even though I love the skin I’m in, the way society views me in comparison to my white neighbor is different.
Something as routine as being pulled over for a speeding ticket is simply a nuisance for white America, but can end up deadly for both black women (read Sandra Bland) and men (Philando Castile). Keep in mind: those are only the deaths that gained national media recognition secondary to undeniable video footage; there are others.
So when expected to drive a "sponsored" car (supposedly awarded as part of a pageant prize package) without registration nor written approval to drive the vehicle, those of color have no problem comprehending my apprehension. However, those with the authority to provide the necessary documentation thought it not a “big deal.” But at the end of the day, driving without car registration in the Commonwealth of Virginia is illegal (rendering the sponsored car unusable).
After all, if you pulled over a young, black woman in a car worth over $40,000 with nothing proving she had the rights to the vehicle, what would you assume? Even if you’re accepting enough to give said woman the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure you’ve seen enough films, news reports and television shows to know that many would assume she’d acquired the vehicle unlawfully.
Sure, there are people who have been spared a ticket when they were unable to provide car registration. However, it’s one of those small crimes where you could be ticketed, but whether you actually get a ticket depends on the officer. In light of all the recent incidents in our country, I’d be willing to bet that no law enforcement officer would ever advise anyone—especially a black woman—to drive without car registration.
Though this incident occurred as Miss Virginia USA, I encountered being the target of racist statements as a state titleholder in both the America and USA Organizations; some instances were more blatant than others. Although make up artists are a dime a dozen, make up artists have asked me on multiple occasions to bring my own foundation. Additionally, I once made an appointment with a hair sponsor only to arrive and be told that none of their stylists knew how to work on "my kind of hair."
On the other hand, some are more obvious with their prejudices--from the car sponsor who told me to my face, "I didn't want you to win," to the outspoken older woman in rural Virginia who attempted to console me by saying, "It's okay that you don't look like the rest of them (referring to the slew of blondes crowned before me)," to the woman who referred to me as "colored" in the year 2016 and was convinced I'd had a nose job because "my nose isn't as wide as other African Americans." Although winning an American pageant isn't easy, being an African American pageant titleholder comes with its own challenges.
The reality is that the way we look—whether that be a facial disfigurement or the color of our skin—does affect the way others react to us. Consequently, that anticipated reaction colors the way we walk through our lives. As a result, I am not attempting to guilt anyone for the luxury of white privilege, but instead am sending out a plea—at minimum—to admit that having fair skin offers a social advantage. Maybe take it one step further and attempt to empathize with the trepidations of black America? Let's stop perpetuating the little lie.