I was recently chopping parsnips for a community dinner. As I chopped the 100th parsnip, right down the centre, the white British lady next to me said, ‘No, that’s not how you cut a parsnip. You must make it into triangles. That is how British people are accustomed to having it.’ I obeyed her orders and said nothing but thought it truly ridiculous. The shape of the parsnip does not change how it tastes. It does not change the fact of that it is a parsnip. And most importantly, it does not change its edibility or ability to flavour a meal and make one’s stomach smile. All that it changes is how the parsnip LOOKS.
So why, when the most important purpose of that parsnip is still being served mightily, should one care so much about the fact that it doesn’t look as one is accustomed to? And if the parsnip had feelings, should it feel any less of a parsnip, any less sweet and carb-like just because of its appearance?
I care more about the second question because it is the more important one, in my opinion. It is more important that we don’t allow our differences to stop us from believing that we are able to fully serve our life’s purpose. Our appearance can never take away from the fact that we are human, like everyone else, with similar faculties, senses to be put to great use, and the ability to adapt, develop, learn, believe, create, earn, achieve, and much more.
Black people — or minorities in general — there is never a time when you will be called just ‘people’ by everyone. You will always be reminded that you’re not white, that you are dark-skinned, that you are a differently-cut parsnip. Yes, historically the difference in your appearance has been used against you, against your ancestors. In my opinion, this is one of the saddest instigations in the history of our people. And yes, even though colonial slavery is long over, racism is still vast and that racism is often more damaging because it is ingrained in the subconscious actions of others, making it really difficult for them to recognise it and change.
One girl wrote on her blog about not getting a job because she was black but that when she changed her name to Bianca White (which, if the Italian is translated, means White White) the interview requests came flooding in. My reaction to this was not anger. In my opinion she just proved what was already obvious but in doing so and writing about it in a viral blog, subsequently flooded the black young people on the web with immense discouragement. My question to her is: what do you do now that you know it is more profitable for you to be white? Do you now go and get your corners cut into a triangular parsnip? No. She is black and she will always be. Her success will never come from her efforts to change her colour but from her efforts to prove that she is intelligent, proactive, productive, ambitious, dedicated, and all of the other things that have gotten numerous black people BRILLIANT jobs in the past. Like Zaide Smith, Baroness Scotland, Malorie Blackman, Alice Walker, Oprah, Jay-Z, August Wilson, Kwame Kwei-Armah (who changed his name to an African name because he was so proud of his heritage) and countless others. When face to face with their future bosses (or audiences — in the case of artists/writers), they were able to show how extraordinary they were. They were able to show that not only were they parsnips just like the other parsnips, but they were sweeter and juicier than any parsnip ever tasted.
Big women — or women with non-model bodies in general — or men without abs and shoulders — there is never a time when everyone will think you are beautiful. Commonality in perceptions of beauty come only from frequent, public definitions of beauty aka the media, and beautiful people in the media are always very slim. Many a time you will be reminded that you are bigger than average, that your thighs are ‘powerful’ or your butt is huge. Your extra bit of fat will be pinched, either by tactless fingers or by the poorly-made jeans that never cater for your shape. You will be teased or scorned or never even given a chance or glance by the ‘fit’ guys or girls, by the ones who eat only triangular parsnips.
One of the girls, well women (she’s 40), on my football team actually has bigger thighs than mine. She said she struggled all her life with her size and was teased for a long time. I feel her pain. I wasn’t teased, but until recently and maybe still, sometimes, I feel like a gorilla among well-groomed kittens. I feel as though one of my steps might shake the ground and break the legs of the many thin beauties around me. But then I read Miranda Hart’s book, the one that inspired this blog because it is all about her being clumsy, never fitting in, and being awkward. Miranda is over six feet tall and is a large woman. But she is also one of the most beloved British comedians of today as well as a bestselling author, an actor and whatever else she wants to be. Serena Williams’ butt cheeks could be used as basketballs if her taught muscles had a bit more bounce to them. I heard a skinny girl say recently that Serena is a ‘man’. I’ve been called a ‘man’ several times and have been told I would make a handsome boy, and had a song made up about me based on the fact that I ‘looked like a boy’. But excuse you, Serena was Wimbledon tennis champion how many times? She is also a black woman who has persevered despite the fact that there aren’t many ‘sistahs’ in the tennis sorority. She has a howl like a hurricane but she is all woman. She is a true parsnip. One of the best.
Non-ivy-leage-goers — or anyone who doesn’t have the credentials that will get their CVs placed in a special pile and coated in gold — unless you go back to university and pay another million US to do so, you might not ever go to a top 10 university. You might never have your A’s from secondary school made to sparkle by the intellectual shoe-shiners of Harvard and Cambridge. There will be people who turn their noses up at your no-name university or lack of university degree. There will be those that refuse to have a discussion with you because your thought process is deemed by them as hardly evolved from that of a neanderthal. You might never be revered as an intellectual, despite your being well-read. You might always be seen as a lesser parsnip.
But look at Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, Duncan Bannatyne or Bill Gates, Thomas Edison or Orju Uzor Kalu, Henry Ford or Andrew Carnegie… or any of the other 55 billionaires who left school at 16 or earlier.
Your education does not define you, your ideas and execution do.
Your skin colour does not define you, your perseverance and character do.
Your background or past doesn’t define you, your dedication to your future does.
Your physical appearance doesn’t define you, your belief in your own unique beauty and greatness does.
The way in which you were cut doesn’t make you any less of the sweet, tasty and nutritious parsnip that you are.
But if you harp on and resent your non-triangular cut you will not just be tasteless to others (because they refuse to eat such parsnips) but you will become tasteless to yourself — and that is a slow rot, a slow death.
If it is not enough for you to know that according to Genesis 1 ‘God created man in his own image and likeness’ and that you are ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ made (Psalm 139), then at least recognise that there is absolutely no point in believing you are any less than a fully-deserved and capable human being and that it is your choice to live like one or to live in resentment, unconfident and regretful.
This is a short music video I made with a friend last weekend. It addresses our inability to look at ourselves. The girl is running from the mirror, from having to look at herself and accept who she is. But at some point we have to look at ourselves and say, ‘You are amazing and you have so much to be thankful for and look forward to.’
I did that a week ago. And since then I’ve gone from a big, weird, unstable, rebellious, poorly-dressed, average, unaccomplished and rectangular parsnip to a gorgeous, intelligent, unique, loving, sweet, proud and grateful parsnip :)
‘The one who wins is the one who thinks he can’