I grew up sheltered.

I grew up in an environment where my parents taught me and my brother to see not what’s skin deep but what’s underneath, to look into people’s hearts and minds.

My parents, here my dad, raised us to see beyond color,
genders, cultures and what not. Maybe that is why I have so
many friends from so many different backgrounds. It
makes my life richer and more diverse.

As a child I played with Ursula, a woman of over thirty years of age, but mentally, I by the time I was seven, I had outgrown her.

Nevertheless, we played and she was my friend.

My parents introduced us to people from all over the world, and in the guest apartments we rented to make a little extra money, we had guests from all over Europe and from all walks of life.

As a child, I once sat in the lap of the Persian Emperor Reza Pahlavi and I played with people who could barely afford their next meals. My parents made sure that we didn’t make a distinction between either of them, dictator or beggar, we were taught to see the human first.

Today, my husband and I try to instill that same view of humanity into our son. He attends an international preschool with kids from over sixty different countries, and his teachers come literally in all colors and sizes, which is totally awesome, particularly compared to the daycare center next door to our house, where everyone’s the same shade of pale.

Racism, to me, has mostly been a theoretical concept. I’m your typical WASP, I’m a white middle-aged male (god this sounds awful), albeit not very heterosexual, but I was raised Lutheran which qualifies me as a protestant, although I have long ago outgrown any godly fairy tales. Still, as a (perceived!) white man, it doesn’t happen very often that I’m discriminated against. Sure, for being gay, but not for being white. Most people can’t tell that I’m part gypsy, because you can’t really ‘see’ it unless you know where to look (the hints are there in my face.)

Not a restaurant I’d return to, given their racist attitude toward
blacks… More in my review of the place.

Therefore, when I went out with a black woman for dinner two weeks ago, I was flabbergasted when the hostess at the restaurant, one of Honolulu’s best, gave my friend a once over with her eyes and asked her flatly “are you with them or on your own?”

There was no “hello”, no “welcome”, there was no smile, there was only disgust (yes, indeed) and the absolute disdain for having a black person at her doorstep. I was so surprised that it left me speechless. I stuttered something about her being in our party to ‘save’ my friend from any embarrassment, but afterwards, it made me wonder if I should have reacted differently.

My friend was upset, and angry at me, too, for not letting her deal with that woman. I can see her point and was saddened that I had added insult to injury. It had been with the best of intentions, but of course, it would’ve been a thrill to see her dress down that impertinent racist… Alas, I’ve learned something.

Ferguson protests. Photo from Newsweek (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

This episode doesn’t leave my mind, particularly not as the news imagery from Ferguson reminds us
just how commonplace this despicable treatment of blacks at the hands of whites still is in the USA, and elsewhere.

And it makes me wonder, if Barack Obama would be treated differently by his Republican nemesis if he had been a white man… Given the circumstantial evidence out there, I’m inclined to say yes.

It makes me angry, it makes me sad and frustrated that we treat people differently just because they look differently, act differently. It says a lot about us humans, and it says a lot about how much work we have yet to do in terms of equality and inclusion, be it across the gender divide, generations, cultures, ethnicities, religions and whatever else that we view as “different” from our own – minority – norm.

I am proud to have several black friends in my life, amazing human beings, with hearts as big as you could ever wish for, and I hope they see me as one of their own, despite my pale complexion. I am  a black man, I am a brown man, I am a yellow man, I am a redskin, I am white man and I am not a little alien!

Can’t you tell?

You just have to look beneath my skin…

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