In order to tell the story of the time I started trending on Twitter because I was white, let me explain a few things about myself.
I am white. I grew up in Texas, with socially liberal parents, who taught me about acceptance and embracing the unknown. My parents didn't settle for my learning about diversity via after-school specials and an annual presentation about acceptance and equality on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Instead, they sent me to an international school that boasts a student body of attendees from more than 50 countries. Why? So I would understand diversity firsthand.
My mom grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood and proactively encouraged me to understand the stereotypes the color of my skin created, and to accept those whose skin color differed from my own. For parents raising their daughter in a predominantly white neighborhood in the South, I used to give them an A+ for their attempts to expose me to all kinds of people. I would eventually realize, despite their best intentions, the A+ was really for effort.
After Hurricane Katrina, I was introduced to the most charming girl I had ever met. After losing her home as a result of the hurricane, she evacuated to my hometown of Houston. Kids who were relocated to my high school in the wake of Katrina were each paired with a hometown student as a way to help them adjust to entering a new school mid-year. She and I were assigned to each other, and the friendship gods struck gold. Soon, we were best friends.
After graduating, my friend attended Spelman College, a historically black college for women in Atlanta. Her boyfriend attended the brother school next door called Morehouse, an all-male campus with a student population that is more than 96 percent black. Fresh into college, I visited my friend and met her handsome new boyfriend from Morehouse. We visited his campus and he gave us a tour of his dorm. I stuck out like a blond, sore thumb. I was, quite literally, the only white female as far as the eye could see.
After 10 minutes of being on Morehouse’s campus, my friend started laughing and showed me her Twitter feed. (Note: This was back when Twitter just made its premiere on the social media scene and tweeting your every thought was the norm.) #SnowBunnyOnCampus was trending in her network.
Everybody stared at me. Students joked that I must have lost my way to Ultimate Frisbee practice, while others jested I was passing through on my way to audition for 'Save the Last Dance 2'
The term “snow bunny” refers to white girls, especially ones who like to hang out with black males. For reference, Iggy Azalea, Carmen Electra, Kim Kardashian and any of Tiger Woods’ many mistresses are common results when you Google “famous snow bunnies.”
Almost instantly, pictures of me from afar were posted: “Is this snow bunny lost?” and “Can’t believe they got a snow bunny on campus outside a sorority house *gasp.*” were just a few of the captions.
None of the tweets were malicious, but they were hilariously stereotypical. It was utterly surreal: Everybody stared at me. Students joked that I must have lost my way to Ultimate Frisbee practice, while others jested I was passing through on my way to audition for Save the Last Dance 2.
This was the first time I had been the minority in a situation before, and it was strange to be an outsider, and to have people making jokes, while lighthearted and inoffensive, singling me out for my skin color. Despite my parents' efforts to expose me to diversity, or how much I liked to think that I could understand what it was like to be judged based on skin color, I realized I would never understand what it would be like to experience racism on a daily basis, or to have those judgments paint me in a negative light.
There is a difference between being empathetic to somebody’s struggles and the impossibility of being able to authentically comprehend them
My brief stint with Twitter fame was many years ago and the users’ accounts no longer exist. In New York City earlier this year, I met a Morehouse graduate. When I told him about the time I was trending on Twitter, he broke out in laughter and said he remembered when that happened. He said it was a pleasure to officially meet The Snow Bunny.
I am fortunate that my experience and unintentional, accidental social experiment as a minority was, if anything, comical.
Many people endure much more harrowing experiences on a daily basis. My time trending on Twitter does not parallel the gruesome, and still omnipresent, realities of racism and cannot compare to what other minorities must endure on a daily basis. While my intention is not to belittle the experiences of those who have triumphed over racism, I am grateful to have had a small, seemingly harmless glimpse of what being singled out because of your skin color is like.
I learned something that day: There is a difference between being empathetic to somebody’s struggles and the impossibility of being able to authentically comprehend them.
Editor's Note: In July 1933, Liberty magazine published an article titled "How it feels to be a negro" by Walter White, a civil rights activist and the former secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The story lends an interesting perspective on race that remains relevant today. Read the full story here.