Many people ask me my age, and when I tell them that I’m almost thirty-five, they were very surprised; saying that I looked no older than twenty-five, which was, coincidentally, the age assumed by all of them. I look younger than my physical age, but I don’t know how people come to that assumption, considering I have a beard and fairly visible gray hairs. I think it’s more a matter of how they perceive me in the context of how we met. As a college student, I associate with mostly college-aged people. But I talk to everyone; perhaps this geniality “tricks” people into assuming I am younger.
I’ve had a few jobs where I was the only white person. The black folks I worked with were standoffish at first, assuming I would be. I stuck out like a sore thumb, so to speak. I appreciated the situation, however, because it forced me to approach as many people as I could, to “make friends.” The end result was a change in mindset to the idea that (at risk of sounding corny) “we’re all just people.” I am glad I was able to defy any preconceived low expectations that may have been placed on me; it helped me immensely, teaching me to not see race as an issue. The experience widened my circle of friends and introduced me to lots of good food and music.
I was born in south Florida, and my neighborhood and school was mostly black, Cuban, or immigrant (foreign language speaking) white. It forced me, once again, to “make friends,” otherwise I’d be one lonely kid. And race was never an issue; cultures were shared with every invitation to a friend’s house, and all of us kids were better for it. Eventually, I’d move to Connecticut to live with my father, who didn’t share a similar attitude towards diversity. The language he would use and the way he would talk about people was atrocious. It reaffirmed my juvenile beliefs that behavior like that was not to be repeated. It helped me realize the importance of treating people with respect, regardless of color; and that respect is reciprocated more often than not.