The Turtle Shell Effect


I was best friends with every single student in my preschool class, we all were. Seventeen toddlers gathered on an eight-by-ten rug Monday through Friday cultivated a sense of community I have yet to feel in any other classroom. We were curious back then, and we weren’t scared to show it. When my four-year-old brain had a question, as stupid or obvious as it may have been, I asked it. I was curious, and that curiosity drove me to learn.

In preschool, we were unaffected by the social structure that consumed the outside world. I paid no attention to who in my class had the most expensive shoes, or whose parents drove the nicest car. I was friends with boys as much as girls. Skin color meant nothing. When I noticed my teacher spoke with an accent that was different from mine, I asked her about it. I was an open book, and so was everyone else. Our intentions were innocent, we were just curious toddlers trying to understand our peers.

However, somewhere along the way, my ability to act on my curiosity fizzled out. 

Even with pure intentions today, I am scared to approach someone new with all my curiosity, in fear of offending them. I think we all do this. We avoid stepping into a situation that can label ourselves as insensitive or even racist. As a result, we lose our motivation to immerse ourselves into cultures that are foreign to us.

Sometimes new situations make me feel a bit like a turtle.I reside in the comfort of my shell safe from the fear of being offensive. And once in a while, when I do poke my head out, trying to familiarize myself with new cultures, I make a mistake and recoil. There is a name we can give this phenomenon: The turtle shell effect; a way of interaction that stagnates cultural progression. The only way to fully celebrate our differences and integrate ourselves is to ask questions and be forgiving of innocent mistakes made. 

Of course, when considering this concept, the defensiveness that sometimes comes from the minority group is a justified response. Racism and hate shows itself daily in every society, therefore people within minority groups cannot always assume the best. Forgiving open conversations surely are not perfect solutions for creating human harmony. My aim is not to criticize defensive responses of preserving and standing up to one’s heritage, rather share my perspective on the idea of opening our minds to honest conversations. 

Always assuming the best intentions from others is hard, if not impossible. So this perspective I share, is liminal. I am a privileged white girl, with no experiences of being part of a minority group. Aspects of the way I am treated and the opportunities I have been given are accredited to the privilege I have. As a result, my scope of knowledge is limited. I write this article in hopes of creating unity among every community everywhere. 

“I believe an essential step toward racial healing and reconciliation is the start of an honest conversation,” said Eugene Pettis, litigator and first African-American president of the Florida Bar, in his commentary piece: The Racism Conversation: What are we so afraid of? “We don’t share genuine and intentional communication enough in our society,”…“the truth is we miss out on enriching our lives and more concerning is that we limit our perspective of the world and our fellow man.”

As Pettis said, a buffer exists between humanity. In order to break it, we have to leave our safe shells and be vulnerable to learning about the people that surround us: which entails making mistakes. The unfamiliar territory of racial, ethnic, or religious groups can no longer feel like a conversation topic covered in caution tape. A crucial part of reforming the way we interact, necessitates effort from both sides. 

Upon reading this over, I am guessing several Clayton High School students will have a lot of feelings about my opinion. I want to create a safe atmosphere to have this conversation, starting at our school. My attempts are goodhearted. I genuinely believe for the most part, we as a human family have good intentions. In order to take the next steps in connecting with each other, we must open the doors to conversations of our identities, and allow others to ask questions unafraid of making a mistake.