The woman’s image flashed across the screen for a few moments, then vanished. Dark, glossy hair. A confident smile. Shining almond eyes. My classmates and I squinted, glancing from our papers to the screen. Shrugging, we scribbled on our papers, Asian.
Soon a new woman’s portrait crossed the screen. Native American. Then a man with caramel skin and bright eyes. African-American. This pattern followed, face after face, guess after guess, until we’d reached eighteen individuals.
In this anthropology lab at Ohio State, my colleagues and I were trying to match images of individuals with the racial category he or she identified with. Simple, right?
Of the eighteen subjects on the screen, my classmates and I correctly identified two racial identities correctly. Two. We checked our papers, thoroughly confused. How could we be so wrong? I was stunned. So much injustice and misunderstanding is brought on by racism, and yet we just proved how inaccurate our perceptions of race truly are.
Racial identity, our instructor explained, is a social construction. Biologically, it means, well, nothing. “We are more alike than we are different,” I remember her saying. “Often you’ll find more genetic variation between individuals of the same race than two from different ones.”
That phrase, “we are more alike than we are different,” stood out to me. It whirled around in my head after I left class and weaved through the raw energy and stream of faces that is a college campus. It stuck with me as I watched, later that week, when fourteen gold and black signs were hoisted in the air at Buckeyethon, signaling to the rejoicing crowd that we’d come together to raise one million dollars for pediatric cancer. It surfaced again as I glanced up toward the ceiling of the eleven-floor library, each level filled with row after row of completely different people, personally immersed but all working in silent companionship.
Somewhere between that anthropology class at the beginning of the semester and now, I began to realize what really matters to me. My passion, distilled to something simple, is that I’m enamored with getting to know the true selves of others around me. I draw energy from their kindness, encouragement, quirkiness, and diversity. The fact that we all, as human beings, possess an innate set of dreams, ambitions, and insecurities regardless of how we appear on the outside is exhilarating.
When I look back on my freshman year, the memories that I regard most highly will not be the loudest. Though I loved each football game and the riotous National Championship night, the moments that take my breath away are quieter. My passion for companionship has grown this year, one friend, one story at a time. It’s grown in late night dorm room conversations, trading ideas about religion and identity and love and the future. It’s grown when I sat, riveted, while each speaker at the OSU TEDx Conference told stories of bravery, innovation, heartbreak and strength. It lives in the quiet thrill I get when a classmate and I walk the oval, totally different in appearance yet connecting seamlessly over a song we can’t get out of our heads.
At first glance, you’d be hard-pressed to call me diverse. I’m as standard as they come – white, Christian, middle class. Beneath this exterior, however, lies a person who yearns to immerse herself in other cultures.
I have become close with people I may have never met but for Ohio State. I love learning about my peers’ childhoods, traditions and plans for the future. We support and uplift one another, enduring lows and rejoicing in the highs. Externally, not much has changed about me this year. Internally, I learned that I’m more diverse than I ever thought possible.
We are more alike than we are different.
With all the ways we compartmentalize one another, it’s easy to forget. As I make my way through this university, this life, one story at a time, I’ll do my best not to let this slip my mind.