When I was a kid growing up, I was a huge fan of the networks that were pumping out kid-friendly material. Fun fact, growing up I was always a huge nerd (I still am deep down, actually). I loved learning, digesting information, and pondering deep questions. If it stimulated my mind, it stimulated my want to take action; that took its course in everything from playing make-believe with my friends and enacting our own scenarios from shows, to stealing all the printer paper and drawing all day. As a kid though, I noticed something that irked me; I was always the “different” guy, the “weird” guy getting called out all the time.
When I was with other kids who didn’t share my enthusiasm for make believe games in my later ages—when I was a twelve plus year old—or in just sitting and drawing comics, or writing up my own role-playing tabletop games, they would say, “Why are you so weird,” or, “Man Roach, you’re strange.” It was kind of common course, and for the longest time I never digested why it made me feel the way I did—why I felt hurt or offended. All the time I would inquire why, never get a straight answer, and would retreat to other friends who understood me and shared the same things.
I was confronted with the prospect of being uncomfortable as the minority among a sea of “normal”. Back then, I was irked by the status of abnormal; of not fitting in.
God has taught me a valuable lesson though: being outside of the periphery, outside of the lines, is where it’s at; where you take joy in your position to unleash what others can’t see.
Quickly going back to my childhood, like I said, I loved kid’s shows. If anyone thinks Doug, Hey Arnold, Sesame Street, or Blue’s Clues are “bad” or “not good” shows, we need to have a talk. But one show that I didn’t learn to appreciate until I was in my early pre-teen stages, was called “Out of the Box”. If you haven’t seen the show ever—especially if you are younger than twenty something—the concept of the show screams nineties and early two-thousands. A basic break down of the show is this: two people, Tony James and Vivian Bayubay McLaughlin, would go with a group of kids to play in “The Box”. Basically, it was a giant hodgepodge of cardboard boxes that made a fort, and when they went inside it was magically a lot more spacious; they would play games, make crafts, learn stuff and then leave to do it again the next day.
Conceptually, it was the epitome of using your imagination to the fullest. Who goes home, finds these two random neighbors, says, “Let’s build a box fort”, and then decides after taping them all together that it’s a gigantic mansion/house? A lot of children, I imagine, thought like I did. They thought it was just a fun show that encouraged us to make stuff and be creative. And it was, and it did that.
What it also encouraged though, was a lesson that personally I would carry subliminally forever; out of the box is a much better space than being in the box.
Granted, I think the title of “Out of the Box” was telling those who watched that “thinking out of the box” and being creative was the overall lesson. Something that strikes me, though, is that when they were in the box, they were just like everyone else! We all went to school, played games, sang songs and made crafts. Nothing really was that out of the ordinary—it was just teaching critical thinking concepts to us at an early age—mission accomplished for the writers and producers. What I really pondered as a kid though, was how those kids were living “out of the box”…out of the box. How were they living in the real world, when things weren’t protected and confined in the boxes they themselves produced? There was an Asian-American boy, an African-American girl, and a Caucasian (read: white) girl playing in the boxes together, but then leading separate lives outside of those boxes as individuals.
In my hometown of Indiana, I grew up as, pretty much, the only Asian-American kid in my schools, and really the only Asian-American in the groups I played with. My town was, and still is (although it is getting more diverse), predominantly a Caucasian filled town—there are a ton of white people, and even less colored people. Because of that, being 100% real with you, I struggled with a lot of identity issues. When you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and see something completely different than what you are surrounded by, it can eat at you on the inside. Kids would taunt me, make stupid comments like, “Your face got hit by a shovel” because my nose was flatter than theirs, “Open your eyes, wake up” because my eyes were a different shape due to my genes, and I even was called “chink” by people. That last one by itself is ridiculously racist because it was used as a derogatory term for Chinese-Americans being a “threat” to America in the early 20th century.
Newsflash: I’m KOREAN-American. Heavy emphasis on the Korean part.
I would cry at home about being different and hating it sometimes, and my mother would cry with me and tell me, “I can’t and never will understand your feelings because I never and will never experience that.” She would get angry and go to the schools when she heard I was being bullied based on my race, and barge into the principal’s office and demand they look into unfair treatment. My mother, although white because I am adopted, wouldn’t stand for anyone, the world even, to treat me with a hint of unfairness. And she was right. In a lot of areas of my life as I grew up, she would never understand my feelings fully because of her skin color, and I would have to deal with that myself.
She would also say, “Don’t let them take what makes you special away from you. You ARE different, and that’s what makes you special and able to do and know what they can’t. It makes you stronger being Korean, and it makes them weaker for singling you out.”
Being a minority or in the minority is difficult, but we are all in the same boat. People like what’s safe; like what’s comfortable; a lot of society likes what is known. Betting on unknowns can be fun, but often times the loss outweighs the reward, especially socially. So people don’t want to invest in us. They want to exclude us, or exclude our ideals or thoughts, even if they are good or just. “You’re [insert person of color ethnicity here], I have never experienced people like you,” or “I’m not [insert person of color ethnicity here, again] so I wouldn’t know,” are common lines we will hear. Maybe even, “That idea sounds so weird, no one thinks that,” is another one—undefined by color but still defined in minority status; a minority of thought.
Still, I truly believe it is important that we take heed to my fire filled mother, who may not be a person of color but wants to love a child that is and empathize with people that are: you are different, that’s what makes you special and to do what they can’t!
Being outside of the periphery is a huge blessing, not a curse. When you are outside of the outer limits of the unknown it gives you more chances than negatives. Chances to dream what no one has ever dreamed, let alone experience; chances to venture out into the unknown and do things yet unattained. It gives you a chance to the first, not the last—you can be the trailblazer, the true entrepreneur and pioneer! When others are inside the lines, inside the boundaries that they have constructed so nicely that it makes them comfortable, they fail to find the adventures that set them free from binding.
Being the minority though, is a true test of character. It will always test your own limits, your own boundaries, and force you to adjust. That first step past the line in the sand is the most dangerous and often the most intimidating. You look back behind you and ask, “What are they going to think? I can’t go back.” You can’t, and you shouldn’t go back though, rather, you should embrace that challenge head on and embrace your faith and inner character with 100% certainty.
The people who chide you for looking different or thinking different haven’t done their homework.
Peter in the book of Matthew was with a bunch of disciples who were trying to be different with a very different individual. That individual, Jesus, told him to step out on to the water from a boat; he asked him to try his own hand at walking on water. He told him to step out in blind faith, to be outside of the box (boat), and dare to be the minority when the others in the boat wouldn’t.
When you are the minority and out of the periphery; when you are outside of the lines and borders, and outside of the range that people can see, it gives you opportunity. Embrace what and who you are, and embrace the freedom that you can be your own man or woman and truly pave a trail that no one else has to lay for you.
Because the best and greatest things to happen are most always the things that people don’t care to look at.
Written by: Michael “Bboy Roach1” Roach