When working with youth, the conversation often comes up about how to address difference. Whether this be race, gender, class or some other physical or identity issue it is always interesting to consider the moment that someone unknown becomes more than just their appearance and becomes a whole person. Working in African American communities, I am often identified as white, which I am. I have had students say the word white in front of me and then apologize for using the term. I always ask them why. I have listened to them describe each other as light skinned or dark skinned, mexican or other as the circumstances dictate, but for some reason white they are uncomfortable with. Maybe it is just that I am often the one white person in the room and my position of power somehow makes them worry this label will upset me. I usually tell them that it is ok, that I am in fact white and understand that. I have gotten the response, "No, Ms. Sarah. You aren't white." I laugh at this, but I also think it is a really important moment. It is at this point I realize I have become a person to them, I am Ms. Sarah before my skin color, before my gender, before my sexual orientation and before my social and economic status. I even had the experience last week of my students telling me I wasn't old! They were talking about another adult staff member at the school who was taking their photograph and they didn't know why so had been upset by it. I was questioning them about whether they could talk to this adult about their actions. They said no and for some reason they identified the reason behind this as the person's age. So to these young people this person became an age before they were a person.

How then do we more often then not create relationships in which people are people first, then whatever other things mark their identity. Much has to do with communication. When we have opportunities to talk to a person and discover similarities and differences in a respectful way. When we have the experience of expressing ourselves to them and listening to their expression, then we become whole human beings to each other. I think that people would be much less nervous about sharing their identities if this process was built in to more of our daily interactions. I can set up the structure in my classroom and attempt to do this in my personal interactions, but how can we do it on a much larger scale?