When Rainbows Make You Uncomfortable

by Sarah Markley

Bob’s Pizza.

It got really great scores on Yelp and the photos of the Heidi’s Hula Luau looked amazing on the web.

We piled both families into the van on our last night of vacation and drove to the upscale part of town where the pizza place was.

A guy in a pizza apron welcomed the loud and crazy bunch of us from across the room and motioned us with a smile to a long table near the wall. I didn’t feel uncomfortable until we sat down.

This city is known to be very gay friendly and many businesses in this section of town are gay owned. Rainbow flags hang proudly in doorways or from awnings. I hadn’t noticed Bob’s Pizza’s rainbows hanging all around until we were safely at our table for eight. I also hadn’t noticed the groups of women feasting on salads and pizza or all of the male-only couples at most of the tables. In fact, it was only after we sat down when I noticed that we were the only mixed group in the entire place.

In my head I immediately chastised myself for feeling strange.

Stupid idiot, Sarah. I love gay people. What’s my problem? I’ve been to lots of gay-owned businesses. I know this about this town.

My own personal hang-ups could be about homosexuality leftover from my conservative Evangelical upbringing. Maybe. But maybe not. I’ve wrestled with the issue enough over the last few years that in my heart I believe that it wasn’t the rainbows that were making me uncomfortable.

It might be simply about feeling like a minority in the midst of a dominant culture that isn’t the same as me.

In Bob’s Pizza I was a minority as a heterosexual female. At my church, I am a minority because of my race and my culture. And as woman, I am often a minority because of my intellectual interests and concerns.

I’m realizing that I’ve lived my whole life trying to outrun any type of minority status. I ran to a primarily white Christian university to be with people like me. The few Korean girls in our dorm lived in their own rooms and often cooked their own strange smelling Korean meals on hot-plates in the hallway. The white girls, including me, kept our own company. It wasn’t weird. It just was.

And we all do this. Even if our groups of friends are eclectic in race, religion or sexual-preference we still gravitate to people who are like us. Maybe we’re all Democrats or Evangelical refugees. Or maybe we all worked at the same office once upon a time or went to the same school. Maybe we all agree on the best beer or the best city to live in.

I’ve spent my life running toward people who make me feel lost in the dominance of the group. But two years ago our family left the church we’d gone to for over a decade and joined a different church. Reasons aside, the church we began attending is primarily 2nd and 3rd generation Asian-American. We stand out in the crowd like you might think and even now sometimes there is a big culture gap. But very quickly we began to feel very much at home at our new church.  It was the first time in my life that I intentionally ran toward a group in which I would be a glaring minority.

Would I have still dragged the whole family out in the heat of the desert evening to the gay pizza place if I had known it was a gay pizza place?

I’m ashamed to say that I don’t know.

Not because of the “gay-ness” of it but because of feelings of minority that are hard to ignore. Even with our experience at church, I still feel the most comfortable when I’m with people just like me. I don’t want to try to outrun minority any longer. I thought I’d “gotten past” a lot of that in my enlightened thirties (ha!) but as it turns out, I’m still quite simple.

It’s embarrassing. And I’m kind of tired of running. Sometimes I’d rather just be the only white, heterosexual girl in the midst of a whole lot of people different than me.

Only a few minutes into the meal did my heart settle down. I stopped chastising myself. I stopped feeling self-concious and I enjoyed my glass of wine. We ordered a Heidi’s Hula and a Bob’s Favorite and filled our stomachs more than perhaps we should have.

And it was perfect.

***I don’t think this post needs a disclaimer but I’ll add one anyway. As an American of German and Irish descent I’ve been a part of the “majority” of American culture for my whole life. Please don’t read this post to mean that I’m comparing my experiences as a sometime-minority to the experiences that the cultural and racial minorities have suffered as a result of marginalization and injustice in this country over our history. I hope you hear my heart in this.

Do you race toward groups where you will mix in well with the dominant culture? How has your view of “standing out in the crowd” changed over your lifetime?

19 Responses to “When Rainbows Make You Uncomfortable”

  1. JessieLeigh July 18, 2012 at 6:36 am #

    The first time I ever felt as though I was the minority was when I worked in a bank in Norfolk, VA. I can vividly recall feeling bothered not so much by the fact that I was one of only two white employees, but by the fact that all the customers automatically assumed I was the supervisor. It was a very awkward experience– for all of us, I’m guessing, though I don’t like to assume others’ feelings.

    What I love most about this post, though, is that you recognized the feeling– you were aware of your discomfort, as fleeting as it may have been. THAT, I believe, shows true compassion and sensitivity. It worries me when people don’t even have that awareness… I think it’s only human to run the gamut of emotions, but it’s critical that we notice and address them.

    • Sarah July 18, 2012 at 8:52 am #

      thank you Jessie. What a true statement: that its human to have the emotion but it’s critical to be aware. thank you.

  2. Wendi July 18, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    I really appreciate how candid the writers here can be. I think we all have moments where we find ourselves really uncomfortable. When we recognize those moments it gives us pause to think about why and what the truth is behind those feelings.

    In college, I flew from Alabama to Tucson for Christmas break one year. I grew up in the military. You can’t miss the diversity in the military – black, white, Hispanic, Asian, we’re all on base together. So I always prided myself for not having any prejudices. Well, there you go, Pride. Mom and I went out one night to play putt putt golf. It was a favorite hang out spot for teenagers. Most of the teenagers were Hispanic/Latino. I found myself really uncomfortable, similar to how you were feelings at the pizzeria. I couldn’t understand why I felt so much unease.

    For me I think it’s because even though I grew up with all kinds of kids from all kinds of backgrounds and religious beliefs, I was always in the majority: white girl, white woman. Playing putt putt with my mom, I was definitely in the minority. It still bothers me to this day that I had such an unnerving reaction to all the Hispanic/Latino kids.

    Two years later I went back to visit my parents in Tucson and didn’t have the same experience. I’m really grateful for that because Arizona is one of my favorite places in the world. And I hope I would never feel that way around any one group again. It makes me sad, you know, that I couldn’t just see people, I saw Hispanic/Latino kids.

    Funny thing is, now I’m working in the offices for Multicultural and Diversity Affairs. Most of my co-workers are gay, Hispanic/Latino, black, 19-years-old – they run the gamut of our diverse culture. And I’m comfortable. I’m learning so much about cultures – not just the PC stuff, but about their families and how they immigrated to the US and how they grew up. It’s so interesting and fun. We just talk. It’s fun. Kind of like you enjoying your pizza.

    Beautifully written, by the way.

    • Sarah July 18, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      thank you Wendi! and i love this story that you told. thank you so much for stopping by today!

  3. Melissa @ Permission to Live July 18, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Thanks for staying and eating, the rainbows aren’t up to scare anyone. I have to admit, that as a minority from the other side, I would have felt a bit of relief to see the rainbow flag, since that place would most likely be an accepting tolerant place for our family to relax and eat. We started out as the average family and since my spouse came out as transgender, we are now a lesbian couple. It’s been amazing to see how some people think that is very different. Many people treat us the same as before, but some people who would have exclaimed over our cute kids and smiled at our family in the grocery store, now glare at us, or look away in discomfort. There are other little differences too, like going on a date to an ice cream shop, ordering our ice cream together and standing together as a couple and having the server ring us up as individuals, when we were a straight couple they would have always assumed that we were together. It’s odd being a minority, but I also find it very interesting. It has definetly given me more respect and compassion for other minorities.

    • Sarah July 18, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

      wow, melissa. Thank you for that. I really appreciate your story, your unique perspective and they way you let us all in on your world. thank you so much.

  4. Reese July 18, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

    “Evanglecal refugees”….bam! Love this. I agree with Jessie, awareness is key.

    You’re awesome, Sarah.

    • Sarah July 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

      thanks Reese!

  5. Matrix Lajon July 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    I always feel out of place no matter what crowd I am in. Probably because I have a hard time identifying with any one group. As for the whole minority aspect, I grew up in the melting pot of North Shore Boston, so I did not really know much a difference until I moved to the south.

  6. Kerry @ Made For Real July 18, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

    I’m finding I care less and less about fitting in (with what groups I would normally try to fit in with, or was expected to all my life) the older I become. And I feel okay about it. Is it hard sometimes? Yes, of course. But I’m realizing I love the ‘not trying to fit in so hard’ life. And I’m also loving the depth of friendship I experience now vs. before. Huh, who’d of thunk it! Such DUH moments, aren’t they? For me it was.

  7. Jaz July 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    As a Dominican-American born and raised in Miami (might as well be called little Cuba), I am definitely most comfortable with other Hispanic Miamians. It’s a very different culture here. I remember a white professor I had telling my class that this (Miami) was not the ‘real’ United States, that we where living in a bubble. Boy was he right. I am can feel pretty uncomfortable around white people sometimes. I always feel like they’re judging me when I’m around them. I have a degree in Sociology & Anthropology. With all the knowledge I got about the beauty of diversity, I know it’s ridiculous to feel uncomfortable about any group, yet the feelings are still there. I think much of it comes from fearing the unknown. When I’m around other Dominicans, Cubans, Colombians, etc., I know exactly what to expect and I know exactly how to act. If I’m around other groups, I feel like I have to walk on eggshells in order not to offend anyone, yet sometimes I still do.

    • Sarah July 19, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      i love this jaz! thank you for sharing some of your story!!

    • RAN August 17, 2013 at 11:54 pm #

      I’m in a slightly similar situation in that I, too, am an anthropology major. As much as I study and attempt to reflect minority perspectives in my work, I am not as comfortable with difference as I would like to be and I am definitely not comfortable when I am in the minority. I feel like an interloper and want to retreat as quickly as possible from group interactions when I am in the minority. Even one-to-one interactions can be awkward and I am hyper-sensitive of saying the wrong thing. I also often interpret innocuous statements as criticism because I am expecting rejection. I am a white female.

  8. Mike Glenn July 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Always authentic and expressing the struggles we have in our minds and hearts with exposing honesty. Thanks for that- The revelation of inclusion in Christ makes it so much easier to include others.

    • Sarah July 19, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

      agreed Mike! thank you for your comment!

  9. Karen July 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Thank you for posting this, and more importantly, thank you for owning your feelings on this issue. As a lesbian, I feel this sense of discomfort at being a minority all the time.

  10. Nicole July 25, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    Why do we commonly dwell on what makes us different? I suppose it is easier or just automatic. I think we sometimes look for reasons why we don’t fit in with the crowd. Why is that? If all else fails – remember the pizza. You are the same as everyone there – you are all looking for a great piece of pizza pie.

    On the subject of rainbows: I’m a straight woman and I feel very good when I see rainbows because I feel they promote peace and acceptance. I know that whoever hung that rainbow, whether they are gay or straight – they have a tolerant heart like mine. I’m comforted by the message they send, which I interpret as “here you are safe – we love and accept you.” That and I think they are beautiful. Thank you for sharing this…

  11. Rev. Barbara August 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    In 2008 I was required to complete 10 courses of undergrad study before entering seminary. I went to the university closest to our residence. As it turned out I couldn’t have been more a minority if I tried. I was a caucasian of Eastern European descent, Christian, middle aged woman in a predominantly Sikh/Muslim/Hindu, post secondary aged, male student body. Your post actually gave me pause to consider did I ever feel uncomfortable in that enviroment. No, not once. Why? I don’t know. I was in a learning enviroment and I loved it. Later I went to a seminary that was equally represented by homosexuals, heterosexuals, transgendered, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Wicans, Presbyterians, United, Unitarians, Mennonites of all ages and ethnicities. We even shared space with a Jewish community for a time. I never once felt uncomfortable there either. Maybe it has grounding in the certain confidence that everyone I meet carries the spark of the Creator within them, made in the image of God. We cannot be Christian and deny that basic understanding of our existence. It provides us with endless opportunities to see God’s goodness revealed in humanity, flawed and broken as we all are.

  12. Farmer Ama June 26, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    We are a male-famale couple with a Rainbow Peace flag hanging in front of our VT farmhouse. My cousint, a young woman marrried to a man, has rainbow dyed hair. we ALL own the beauty of the rainbow, as allys, friends, lovers, OR queer folk. its all for us! all the beauty and love that we can stand to have, its OURS! Dont let anyone take away your love of unicorns and rainbows. ever. Many Thanks for this article, and God Bless.

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