Thursday, January 15, 2009

Afraid of the Afro in the window?

The UltraViolet December 2008

By Julie ‘09

Every day I pass the Runway boutique on La Brea Avenue on my way to school. I have seen it every morning and afternoon for the last five years. In the window, it advertises things like local designers, art shows, and vintage clothing. Every few days they change the window dressing and often I find myself admiring the clothes displayed. Despite all this, I had never gone inside. This is because next to all of the appealing advertisements in the window, there is a huge picture of a black woman. The pictured shows a gorgeous, curvy black model sporting an Afro.

My reluctance to go into Runway was not a racist decision, but one of intimidation. I felt it would be awkward if I were to walk into this store that I pass twice a day and that sells clothes I really like, because I am white. As a white girl living in West Los Angeles, what would I have to write about racism, you might ask? Throughout elementary school I heard the spiel about multi-ethnic rainbows, tolerance, and appreciating differences. Every year since I entered school I attended a dozen assemblies emphasizing the same clichés about creating a color-blind world. Other than those lectures, I never felt I had much experience with prejudice. In my case, I think I just accepted the message and let it go, passing it off because I am a white girl who isn’t actively racist, so obviously, it doesn’t pertain to me.

But how much has all the talk done, if, in my own life, I still make distinctions based on race? This question really stuck with me and nagged me as I continued to pass Runway twice a day. Was I going to let a picture discourage me from shopping there? Finally, I decided it absolutely should not. All the talk I had heard about racism would not change society if I, one individual, didn’t welcome ideas of tolerance and diversity into my own life.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, I decided I would go inside the store. I have to admit I was a little more than nervous as I walked inside. I was greeted with a friendly “Hello” from the clerk, a smiling black woman with braids and a scarf in her hair. A quiet sigh of relief took over me as I browsed the racks. I was much more comfortable at Runway than I had expected to be. I had a blast hanging out in the store and took my time looking at everything. I felt just as at ease in this store as I would have if the model in the window had been white.

When I went into the store that day, I realized I was wrong to have dismissed the clichés about prejudice. Although I am not stereotypically racist, before that day I had subconsciously made the decision not to go into Runway because of my race. That afternoon the message I had heard since first grade finally sunk in: as long as we continue to segregate ourselves, it’s impossible to have a color-blind world.

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