Every day, we all wake up exactly how we are.
We wake up with messy hair from sleeping too hard, from dreaming a million dreams. We wake up with our heads a little foggy, trying to talk ourselves through the next step of our day because our brains haven’t fully adjusted from our dreams to reality.
Every single day, we wake up in our own moods, with our own thoughts, and with our own paths.
When does the day change from us waking up as ourselves to becoming who society sees us as?
I don’t wake up as a white woman. I don’t wake up as a blonde. I don’t wake up as a polite voice behind the counter while my patience runs thin because I just cannot deal with extra stress that day. I don’t wake up thinking about what I should or shouldn’t say during a menial conversation with a stranger I come across in the grocery store, so that I don’t offend them. I avoid speaking what my opinion actually is.
I don’t wake up as any of these things. These things do not make me who I am, and they don’t make you who you are.
I am a human, and I just want to be human.
Society has a label for all of us. We’re labeled for everything from the color of our skin to the accent and vocabulary we speak to our life views or religious choices. All these labels dictate how society treats us.
If you get covered in tattoos, suddenly you’re a delinquent and have no chance at a successful career because, “Nobody would hire you looking like that.” I can almost hear the words echo from the older lady I’m serving at the restaurant I work, while she eats her side salad in a shoulder-padded, red pantsuit. This woman is also boldly wearing a ridiculously overzealous matching red hat on top of her recently permed, powder-white hair.
Why can’t I be successful with tattoos?
My tattoos are not a reflection of my intelligence or my dedication. Little does she know, I work this job along with another to support my child, while also supporting myself through college. And while doing all of this, I’m stressing over whether I can handle it. I can’t not handle it because of my tattoos, I assure you, but I’m worried about whether I’m doing enough for my child. But, this woman doesn’t know any of this information; she, along with society, sees me as less than for something I see as art, expression, resilience, and commitment.
She doesn’t see a hardworking single mother or a struggling college student. She doesn’t see my compassion and my empathy.
She didn’t see me wait a little too long to hold the door open two days prior because the lady I was waiting for was crossing a parking lot while wrestling two small children. She didn’t see me break down and cry on my bathroom floor last week, so my daughter wouldn’t see me. She saw a tattoo, and suddenly, I was meaningless in her societal view.
“Well, why would you get tattoos if you’re worried about what people would think of them?”—and that is the problem. I’m not worried about what they think of me; I’m worried that instead of seeing a human, they see what society tells them to. I don’t want to be a woman with tattoos, and I am not a delinquent. I just want to be human.
What about the homeless guy on the corner asking for help? We’ve all seen him. Dirty and usually underdressed for the weather, with either the sun beating down on him while his face steadily turns a darker shade of ripe tomato; or shivering because he has a thin, tattered jacket with a broken zipper. The ice wind cuts right through, proving the jacket to be pointless for anything more than covering his arms.
Most people ignore them: they see an alcoholic. They see a drug addict. They see someone who’s lazy and won’t get a job. What they don’t see is that George on the corner there is homeless because he couldn’t adjust to life after war. He’s homeless because his mental health was traumatically compromised while he fought for our right to view him as trash and ignore him, while also ignoring basic human decency. He’s homeless because after his wife passed away two years ago, he just couldn’t function through his heartbreak without her. He slowly let himself go.
A system he fought for had beaten him down, and the one light in his life was the woman who held him while he cried after having a nightmare every night for four years. The woman who was strong for him—even though he was supposed to be strong for her—was simply not there anymore.
Society sees him as a burden; he just wants to be human.
The guy who just walked by your car while you were parked at a light—the guy who made you lock your doors when you saw him—that guy is on his way to his third job because he has a mother at home who is bedridden with cancer and no insurance. He can’t afford a car because all his money goes to taking care of his mother, which is why he walks from job to job, just to go home and take care of her all over again. You saw someone dangerous. Why?
Because the news tells us that all men walking down the sidewalk will break into our car? Or is it because society told us so? Is it because we were in the backseat of our parent’s station wagon, with stained seats from our many spilled YooHoo’s, and we watched them do the same? We see a hardworking, dedicated, loyal, and loving son as a danger. He just wants to take care of his mother.
He just wants to be human.
Society spends too much time telling us how we aren’t good enough, what we need to do to make ourselves good enough.
This next beauty product we must buy, because this color is to die for this season. But, please, don’t read the warning label on the back that shows the high content of aluminum that will eventually settle in the brain and cause Alzheimer’s. Disregard the warning, because society wants to see us made up like everyone else.
Society has convinced us that the mold is where we should build ourselves,. Those who won’t conform to the mold aren’t good enough by society standards. Conform, conform, conform.
When did we start judging people by color, hair, clothing, religion, ethnicity, style, and every other superficial thing society could think of? When did the lack of a new wardrobe make someone not good enough? When did someone having more melanin produced in their skin make them a danger? When did having a lack of melanin call for someone to be entitled? When did having bad teeth make someone a drug addict? And when did extremely unforeseeable and unfortunate events in our lives that we couldn’t control make us less than?
Imagine a world where people treat each other like humans, instead of constantly comparing and assuming. Society says, somehow, we have to find a way that we are better than the person next to us.
Humans treating other humans like humans—that is a crazy concept, isn’t it? Yet, it’s what all of us really crave: to be seen from the inside out, instead of solely being seen from the outside.
I am not a white woman. I am not my hair color. I am not my tattoos. I am not my piercings. I am not the quiet voice that patiently waits when patience is as thin as an iced over lake in March. I am not the makeup or lack of makeup on my face. I am not my worn clothes on my rough “I don’t have the will to do today” kind of days, and I am not the dress I use to go all out because where I’m going is important, and I must make a good impression.
I am not the car I drive, and I am not the house I bought. I am not the number in my bank account that reveals just how broke I am two days before payday. I am not the rising number and satisfying, relieving sight of the direct deposit finally going through.
I have let friends borrow money, and I have asked those same friends for help. I have had a full tank of gas, and I’ve also only been able to put five dollars on Pump 4 while paying with quarters. I have cried because I’m overwhelmed, and I’ve been that person people talk to when they’re overwhelmed.
I have made a stranger’s day, and I’ve ruined someone else’s.
I am not better than anyone.
I am flawed. I am not perfect. These things do not define me or any of us. I do not wake up these things. You do not wake up these things. Nobody wakes up these things.
We wake up as humans, and honestly, I don’t want to conform—I just want to be seen as a human.