I like to think that throughout my childhood I experienced the best of both worlds. I spent a majority of my childhood in New York City where I attended a Catholic school along with a diverse group of students; white, black, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. I was so used to blending in with the melting pot of races that I almost forgot that there was a distinction between us. Everyone was the same to me.
When I was a pre-teen, I moved to a small town in rural Pennsylvania that I am positive none of you have ever heard of before. It was a town where everyone knew everyone and everyone actually WAS the same…everyone except for me, that is. It was in this small town where I learned that I was very different. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my big, curly hair, my loud, colorful clothing and my thick New York accent. I was made fun of for the things that made me unique and quickly started to feel like there was something wrong with me. Why didn’t I fit in ? I was bombarded with questions like “You’re from New York…so have you seen anybody get shot?” and constantly referred to as Mexican despite my 100% Puerto Rican roots. After years of trying to explain that the same way Italians should not be called Irish and Irish should not be called German, Latinos should not be assumed to be Mexican, I learned to laugh in the face of ignorance. I spent years telling them I took great offense to this assumption as anyone else would. But by the time I reached my senior year of high school, I realized that for some of my fellow classmates, there was nothing I could teach them.
A large chunk of my classmates had never left our small town nor did they have any desire to. They lacked a desire to learn about anything that happens in any other part of the country, let alone the world. With that lack of desire came a lack of empathy for anyone who had gone through or was going through anything that did not directly affect them. Please let me say that I am not talking about ALL of the people I attended school with. I made a lot of friends over the 5 years I lived in Pennsylvania and I like to think I taught them as much about my culture as they taught me about theirs. But my point in telling this story is to get to the greater point which is that while I have never had a violent run-in with police and while I have never been called a racial slur, I know what it feels like to be judged because of appearance and I can empathize with anyone who feels like they are treated differently for things they cannot control…things they should be embraced for.
Fast forward to 2016. I still keep in contact via social media with a number of students I went to school with in PA. I often enjoy reading about their views on world issues and comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences between their opinions and those of my friends in New York, many of whom have lived in the big city their entire lives. I have one old classmate from Pennsylvania in particular whose statuses I always liked reading. She was extremely into politics and extremely in support of the Republican party. Emphasis on the word ‘extremely.’ I love hearing about different political views and occasionally watching a political debate via Facebook. But as time went on, I started to feel that this particular person’s posts were becoming less political and more personal. While I won’t get into too much detail, I started to wonder if her extreme HATE for our current president was deeper-rooted than just a disapproval of his political stance.
This past weekend, Beyonce released a song titled “Formation” which I would describe as a pro-black anthem. I think she is sending a positive message to people who look like her or her family members with lyrics like “I like my baby hair with baby hair and afro” and “I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.” I did not see anything offensive about the song even though it doesn’t directly relate to me. I think it is great that Beyonce is trying to teach people – and young women especially- to embrace the things that make them different even if it is often the thing that they are criticized for the most. I will still sing along when this song is played on the radio.
Disclaimer#1 – I am a huge Beyonce fan.
Disclaimer#2 – I have the keen ability to step outside myself and analyze a situation from multiple perspectives. I am a Libra. I have no problem admitting when someone I love does something I don’t love. I love Beyonce. I love “Formation.”
The music video for the song addresses a number of issues that are/have gone on in the world. Police brutality, Hurricane Katrina, etc. So when this girl from Facebook responded to the Beyonce song by saying that Beyonce is an idiot with no class, I took it as the confirmation I needed to determine that this girl was the same as the kids in my class who made fun of me so many years ago. This might not even be an issue of black, white and in between. I think it is more indicative of a culture that lacks empathy for anything that they personally do not experience or relate to. What is offensive about shedding light on things that are really happening in America? Not even across the ocean but literally right in America!!! Just because something has not happened to you does not mean it doesn’t happen. And just because something is not important to you does not mean it is not important. And since when does loving your features and empowering others to love theirs make you classless? Believe me when I say I would not write a post this long if this one girl from Facebook was the only one who felt this way.
So often in society we are taught not to love ourselves. Through music, TV and lately, through social media. We’re never skinny enough or thick enough. Our rear ends are either too big or too small. We either need to learn how to apply make-up or we wear way too much make-up. Too short or too tall. Not exotic enough. There are so many things out there that could make me hate myself if I let it. So it was shocking to me when a song that is about loving your features (and even being a little cocky about it) was completely bashed! The only reason anyone should feel offended by this song is if they felt attacked. And I hope that people can understand that loving yourself does not mean that you hate everyone else. Beyonce loving her own nose does not mean that she hates mine! I hope you can understand that while I love my Spanish dishes and my Puerto Rican culture I still love all of the people in my life who are not apart of that culture. I fear that things like this will inhibit people from being open about self-love. My only wish now is that Jennifer Lopez will make a song embracing the crazy, often untameable Latina curls or talk about how much she loves our legs that are often so thick we can’t find pants that fit correctly. I want a self-love anthem as well!
Basically, this post has two major points 1) You can love yourself and love everyone else as well – the heart was made to be open enough to store that much love. So please do not be mad at this Beyonce song even if it is not about you. 2) A lack of desire to learn more about issues that don’t affect you will be what destroys us as a people. Broaden your horizons. If you’re from the city, take a trip to the country. If you’re from the country, spend a few days in a large city. Realize that there is a much bigger world outside of the four walls of your bedroom.