Hi. I’m Elizabeth. I love beautiful things. I’m a human being, so of course I do. I’m also a libra and if you look up any description of my zodiac sign, you’ll know I never stood a chance against beautiful things. Beauty owns me.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of ugliness in this world. But ugliness has a wide range. The part I’m normally privy to almost always goes something like this conversation I had. Or rather, the conversation that was had with me:
“I don’t think I know you, what’s your name?”
“Oh, right. This can’t be your baby, can it?”
“Yes, this is Ella.”
“She’s a big baby.”
“Yeah, she’s a year old.”
“Your hair is different than last time.”
“Yeah, it is. You know, this is weird to say but you look Hispanic with your hair like that.”
“Has anyone ever told you that?”
“Doesn’t she look Hispanic? I thought we had this exotic Spanish princess with us.”
The backstory is this: I’ve known this person for years. She knows my parents and my family well. We’re not close, obviously. We certainly not close enough for her to touch my hair, as if to check to see if it was real. Which she did. We’re certainly not close enough for her to make comments on my personal appearance. Which she did. But we’re certainly close enough for her to remember my name. Which she didn’t.
Maybe this conversation doesn’t seem ugly to you. Maybe this sounds like a normal conversation. If it does, that’s probably because you’ve never been on my end before. She looked at me and saw only my skin and my straight hair. Not a person she should have recognized, not the daughter of friends. Not a girl whose wedding she attended. Not the girl who has had a million variations of the conversation before, who’s so tired of standing there shocked, saying, “Okay,” over and over.
Because it’s not okay. It’s ignorant. It’s unnatural. It’s ugly.
So if this conversation seems normal to you, then please, at the very least, remember this: telling someone who is black that they look Hispanic is offensive. Trying to get a bystander to join you in your assessment is spreading ignorance. Telling someone who is black that they look like an “exotic Spanish princess” isn’t a compliment.
My only hope is this: She knew it was weird to say. I watched her brain try to stop her mouth but the compulsion to be ignorant took over. So if you’re one of the people who think this was a normal conversation, who didn’t see the ugliness but have maybe felt the compulsion, please let your brains be stronger than your mouths. Because the next time this happens to me, I might just let my mouth win that battle for once.
But I hope I won’t. Because beauty owns me and I don’t want to add to the ugliness.