erikadprice’s thing got me thinking about being a kid and being aware of race and gender. because i’m going to admit that one of the pillars of the diverse media credo – that kids feel it when they don’t have any role models that are like them – while i believe absolutely impacts other people of underrepresented groups, never really felt true to my own experience? i read about white kids and sometimes imagined that they weren’t white and never noticed. i’m pretty sure that up until tenth grade i subconsciously thought i was white. (there’s actually a really funny story about a seventh-grade freudian slip in there somewhere.) tenth grade was when my parents finally loosened the reins and i started going to other people’s houses and noticing that they didn’t take their shoes off when they went inside. it still a thing that bugs me about white people.
but when i read erikadprice’s ohio portrait, it got me thinking about other ways in which we have a sense of ourselves as other, and i remember – in fifth grade we did a “wax museum,” where we presumably stood as still as fifth graders can get until someone came up to us and pressed the button to make us “go”, upon which we delivered a biographical speech about the person we were impersonating. it was way better than the awfulness of “ohio portrait #115”. there were a few baseball players, some presidents. my next-door neighbor was betsy ross.
and i remember being maya lin, the designer of the vietnam war memorial, and thinking back on that – where did that come from? why on earth did this relatively obscure architect and designer pop into my head? why can’t i remember learning about her, but i can remember thinking that she was basically the only historical chinese-american woman? why did that matter to me?
it matters to me now, obviously. but back then, when i was a mildly racist ten-year-old who, if asked, probably would’ve said that anyone could be whatever historical figure they wanted, race and gender be danged, who had basically zero self-awareness of the way the body she was in impacted the way she was perceived by the people around her – what arcane processes happening in her brain made her pick the only historical figure she could think of that was “like her,” like me? why did it take her so long to notice that it did, in fact, matter?