Blending In by Standing Out

Shefali Murti
Writing 150 Fall 2020
3 min readOct 28, 2020

As mentioned in my WP2 post “Differently Ever After”, I went to an all-white, presbyterian nursery-kindergarten, where I, even at such a young age, was hyperaware of my brown skin. With something as simple as the “skin-color” [i.e. peach] crayon not resembling my own skin color, I always felt so different compared to my white classmates — and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. That being said, my worst nightmare came to life when my parents got the call during my kindergarten year that I was chosen to be Mary in the annual nativity play. The roles are fully decided by the teachers, and though each girl’s dream was to be the “star”, Mary, I always hoped to be an angel — I could put on a pretty costume and blend in the background. Thus, when my parents got this call, I immediately started sobbing and refused to accept that I had to be Mary. In a place where I wanted to blend in as much as possible, why would I want to now be put in the spotlight — especially when the teachers knew there were many other girls whose dream it was to have this role?

My early childhood “pro-whiteness” is more common than I originally thought. It’s a common misconception for people to think that children don’t conceptualize race until they are older/more educated — many studies have been done in regards to childhood racial awareness. One study in particular, “The Defining Moment: Children’s Conceptualization of Race and Experiences with Racial Discrimination”, talks about the racial perspective of children of color:

“…between the ages four to six, black children develop a pro-white bias, with pro-black affinities developing between the ages of seven to ten, and finally more negative attitudes toward whites during the age range of fourteen to eighteen (Fishbein 2002). During field observations in London, Connolly (2002), noted that children as young as five downplayed their own South Asian identities in favor of whiteness and also criticized the ‘ethnic’ features of their counterparts.” (Dulin-Keita, Hannon, Fernandez, Cockerham, 2011)

This pro-white bias and “downplaying” of one’s own non-white identity is certainly something I was experiencing at this time in my life. Though this is inherently a sad and problematic truth, I feel a strange sense of comfort knowing this a common sentiment among children. And again, these desires to disassociate from one’s racial identity in “favor of whiteness” can largely stem from popular media consumed by children, as discussed in my WP2.

In my young and naive brain, being Mary in the nativity play constituted the opposite of trying to downplay my brown skin. And though my initial reaction of absolutely not wanting to assume play this role makes sense in the eyes of a 5-year-old, I will say that I came to realize this was doing exactly what I wanted. This role, Mary, is a role that every girl wanted. This role was the epitome of being a 5-year-old white presbyterian-christian girl, an identity I thought I desired so greatly at the time. By playing this role, I was conforming to society’s norms of who I thought I should be, I was assuming the role of a picturesque kindergarten white presbyterian-christian girl. I felt confident, I felt proud, I felt happy…by standing out, I was blending in.

I am fully aware that this still a problematic way of thinking. Of course now I don’t share this pro-white bias I once had — as the study points out, I finally was able to develop pride in my identity as I grew older and more educated. And looking back at all this now, I once again see this role in a new light. Just above, I said playing this role ultimately made me feel confidence, proud, and happy because I finally didn’t feel so different. And this is all valid, but I want to reword the reasoning for these feelings, to stray away from the “I wanted to be white” idea. Being chosen for this role meant I wasn’t losing opportunities because of my race, it meant the teachers weren’t focused on solely pleasing the white christian children and parents that wanted this. I wasn’t being treated differently because of the color of my skin, I was treated just the same as anyone else, and that is an important value to learn so young.