Black lives matter. White lives matter. Pantone* shade 316 – 6C lives matter.
*a system printers use for matching colors
Like you, I’m dismayed and angered by recent violence in the world, and I’m grateful to those of you who are speaking up about it. I want all the colors to matter.
I’m no expert on race – but like you, I have my story. I consider myself one jumbled-up, slightly under-cooked, under-processed meatball of experiences that have evolved over time.
I grew up in a New York City suburb that attracted people who wanted to leave the crowding, noise and color of New York. Not surprisingly, we were mostly white.
When I was a child, we drove through the segregated south to visit my Georgia cousins. I asked my mother why there were two sets of drinking fountains at the rest stops. I was shocked by what she told me – and I never could look at the South the same way again.
I felt superior to my southern relatives because I lived in the North, only to discover, years later, that I, too, was related (a long way back) to people who owned slaves. Just because I didn’t see racism in Connecticut didn’t mean it wasn’t part of the air I breathed.
Oberlin College, which I attended in the 70’s, created a new dorm called African-American House, and many of the black students chose to live there. This disappointed me. I wanted to rub shoulders with them in the dorms and make friends. And I felt shy about intruding across racial borders.
Homosexuality was another stumbling block at college. I really couldn’t fathom it when folks first started talking about being gay. The idea that my roommate could turn out to be lesbian set me on edge. (I was tired enough of fending off advances from aggressively horny guys.)
Ten years later my oldest girlfriend from childhood fell in love with a woman. My world expanded. I cried for joy when our State finally passed the Marriage Equality Act.
Relationships have been my great teachers.
I’ve dated black men, white men, jews, buddhists, christians, sufis, atheists, asians, south americans, and french men (whom I put in a category all their own).
Love melts boundaries.
I’ve been mugged by two black men, one asian man, and watched our country being financially raped by greedy, white (mostly) men.
I worked in Africa with brilliant, ebony-colored superstars. I danced with them in nightclubs in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) to a beat that travelled in a nano-second between Detroit, Brazil, Cuba, Mali, Paris, Miami and Amsterdam, proving musically how we’re all connected.
A man in Peru once told me that my walk was “Brazilian.” My DNA comes from many parts of the world. I’ve a hunch that I have a past-life connection to Africa – but I’m not going to try to prove that one.
When I returned home to Manhattan from Senegal, the taxi drove me through Spanish Harlem.
Gazing out the window, I noticed that the skin tones I saw were not black, or even ebony. They were cinnamon, walnut, cafe-creme, dark chocolate, mahagony, mocha and fawn – a composite of colors from around the world.
Why do we divide the world into black and white, I wondered? Calling people black, white, red or yellow doesn’t even make visual sense.
Brazilian artist Angélica Dass would agree with me. She has a magnificent project, Humanae, where she explores skin color and ethnic identity, and moves us beyond our attachment to four arbitrary skin colors. She takes portrait photos, identifies the Pantone color type of each person’s skin, uses it for the portrait’s background color, and then creates large scale installations around the globe that illustrate the diversity of our faces and colors.
I loved her TED talk. It’s gorgeous and so is she.
Through her work, people around the world are seeing how beautiful they are.
I’m still an under-cooked, under-processed, meatball of experiences, informed by people I’ve loved and touched, saddened and enraged by senseless attacks on people I don’t even know, but feel connected to.
Which is why I’m feeling wounded these days. And not sure what to do. And that’s where I hope to learn from you.
Please say a prayer with me, for those who have recently died so tragically, because of their sexual orientation, the color of their skins, or for just being at the wrong place at the wrong time around people with the power to kill that they should never, ever have been given.
And then let’s honor our true colors.