In Greece, a long, long time ago…

I’m Beige. Does Anyone Care?

There is definitely a subtlety about the way people treat you when you aren’t quite white. As a woman of Greek descent, people often confuse me as a Spanish or Italian descendant since many of us share the classic characteristics of olive skin with dark brown hair and eyes. I may be of European descent, but because of my darkness, there is an understated prejudice very close to the surface of many of my life’s experiences.

My first recollection of this subtle dismissiveness was when I was eight years old standing in the nurse’s office of my new elementary school. My family had just moved out of the Bronx for a better life in the suburbs. I was standing next to a classmate when a teacher along with the nurse began admiring my classmate’s blonde hair. They were gushing about her beauty while I was shoulder-to-shoulder with her feeling invisible and dirty like an unwanted child.

After the tragedy of 9/11, a business owner whose store I frequented barked at me, “You people support the terrorists.” I was stunned. I was born and raised in the USA and was extremely proud to be a first generation American. Clearly this person felt otherwise. I had spent a lot of money in that store and many hours in deep conversation with this man, yet I had no idea he felt that way about me.

Another time, a woman asked me my nationality. When I told her my parents were Greek immigrants, she asked, “Are your people fishermen?” How do you answer that?

As an adult, I learned about the suburban pecking order the hard way. I had failed the skin color and economic status tests that were required to attain popularity in the adult cliques infamous for their exclusivity. Year after year, as my husband and I stood on the sidewalk waiting for the Fourth of July parade to begin, people would walk up to my Dutch/German blue-eyed spouse and carry on a full conversation without looking my way once. I am 5’9 and hard to miss. He never noticed even when I pointed out how rude and dismissive the people in our community could be. Again, so subtle that only discerning eyes would notice.

My favorite was going to the town pool where people would flock to the black neighbors and couldn’t be more gracious inviting them to BBQs and playdates without even considering including me. It was so easy to dismiss me. I guess I didn’t bring much value to the party.

My family has a rich history. Greeks were slaves to the Turks for 400 years and they were only freed in the War of Independence in 1821. In the early 1900s, my grandparents were refugees who had to flee Asia Minor and travel into Greece through Albania at the tender age of five. Whenever I share these stories, no one has ever asked me one question. There is absolutely no interest, so a conversation never ensues. Again, the awkwardness prevails.

Don’t get me wrong, I have lived a wonderful life. I have pursued all my goals without letting anything hold me back, but the subtle dismissiveness is pervasive. I guess it’s not considered discriminatory to be indifferent towards a beige person. No one is going to notice anyway.

I am glad that I have this public forum to finally share my story. Now I hope someone reads this.