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Life Lessons from Melissa: Roommates use humor to tame racial differences

I come from a town where the population is 98 percent Caucasian. I know of one Jewish family and roughly three homosexuals.

Today, I live with two African-American females, one homosexual Jewish male, and another Caucasian female. Growing up, my best friend was “mixed,” as she calls herself, Caucasian and African American.

When we were young, we knew there were differences between us, and we were never shy to acknowledge them.

As we got older, however, we started seeing more and more sideways glances when we made seemingly harmless jokes about the fact that her favorite ice cream is chocolate and mine is vanilla; “Just like our skin!” we would say a little too loudly in public.

We had not yet discovered the strangely silent elephant in the room when it comes to the topic of race.

Many say that race is not a biological aspect, but a social one. I agree wholeheartedly, but does that make it less present?

Hardly. I never understood why it is not politically correct to discuss race and religion and politics for that matter, in a casual manner. Those conversations always seem to end up with accusatory tones and offended huffs, even if they don’t end up in a full out brawl.

Race is real. It is here, there, and everywhere whether we like it or not (which is strange that we wouldn’t like it; we create it).

I went through high school like most others in my town; simply ignoring racial/sexual/religious variations. When I did attempt to ease into that conversation, I was usually disputed in my views (in that conservative town, white supremacy ideals were not shunned, to put it fairly).

Today, I lead a different life. I am more opinionated, more informed and much more open. In our house, we do not shy away from recognizing our cultural and ancestral differences, albeit occasionally too much.

I have heard more insanely offensive Jewish jokes than I care to recount and have found myself slipping with derogatory terms that I have never before used. The thing is, these things are never said unless the topic of the “joke” is present. All of this is incredibly dysfunctional and probably astounding to most who enter our home who do not live there, but it works for us.

We have learned so much about one another’s insecurities, backgrounds, fears and goals.

We, as a “tossed salad,” needed to find a balance. Although we never sat down and said, “OK guys, we are all of different races and sexualities and religions, what is the best way to deal with it?”

Truthfully, I don’t think any of us even thought about it. We live together as friends, not as some strange experiment.

My whole life, I have never seen a positive outcome from ignoring our distinctions. These past few months, I have learned more about human nature and societal criticism than I thought possible by living with this diverse group.

This is not to make it seem like we are constantly focused on our variations but simply to express the need for recognition.

Not talking about something does not make it non-existent, and we have found our refuge in humor. These subjects are daunting and unpleasant to many, but they don’t have to be. We all have an ounce of crazy, we have all said regrettable things, and each of us perpetuates our racial/religious/political/cultural stereotype in some way, regardless if we admit it or not.

For my roommates and best friends, we have found the strange interlacing of our similarities and differences and realized that no good comes out of only focusing on the relatable.

We get offensive, take it too far, cry or laugh, get more offensive, and then move on to the next subject until it comes back around.

Exposure is half the battle. If the world could lighten up and laugh at others, but most importantly at themselves, we would live in a much more amiable salad bowl.

Melissa Knueven is a junior studying communications and a columnist for The Post. If you experience the same qualms, email her at

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