—-Martin Luther King, Jr.
I often watch silly sitcoms when I am in the mood to escape from reality, but lately these comedies add a dose of reality to their offerings. This week’s episode of "Blackish" took me back to an incident that happened when I was four. I overheard adults speaking derogatorily about a man’s color, and couldn’t understand what they meant. Was one color better than the other? I thought about the dresses in my closet. The black one with the pink flowers was my favorite. Was my mother going to make me wear the white one? They were both pretty dresses. How can color change value.
Many years have passed, and I have, unfortunately, been witness to countless incidences of prejudice against people of color. I am still that four year old girl though, asking how color can change value. Where did that idea ever originate?
Rogers and Hammerstein gave us their beliefs in a song from South Pacific:
“ You've got to be taught
To hate and fear, you've got to be taught from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught
To be afraid of people
Whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You've got to be carefully taught.”
When did this lesson begin to formulate? Where, when and why did people begin to see color as a determination of value? Is it something as basic as the fear of something different or something as complicated as finding one’s own self-worth climbing on the shoulders of another?
We learn these lessons in so many ways through the years. The “good guys” wear the white hat while the “bad guys” don black. The color “nude” is the color of the Caucasian’s skin, and bandaids are the nude color found in crayon boxes. The black cat is the one we fear, and the white dove represents love. Imagine being a child of color and being surrounded by all of these symbols.
This week "Blackish" showed us that bias doesn’t limit itself to crossing races. Unfortunately, the home of African-Americans can be as uncomfortable as the streets, with lighter skinned people feeling just a little loftier than darker skinned people in the same household or neighborhoods. There is even a term for it in the Urban Dictionary. Colorism is the discrimination of African-Americans by skin tone in their own community.
It is not only the Caucasian who carries these prejudices. Teaching in an inner city school gave me a front row seat to the prejudices that are prevalent in many different cultures. I have spent a lifetime trying to understand why some people can only accept mirror images of themselves as being equal or “good.” Different religions, races or sexual preference is seen as a threat, and somehow we need to stop that rhetoric.
If I understood the relation of color to value than some of this might make sense to me...but I don’t. If I knew how, I would devote the rest of my years to changing the subconscious messages that invade our minds from the earliest of years...but I don’t.
All I can do is hope that someday soon we will all judge and be judged by the content of our character.
I really enjoyed the book that I read/reviewed this week. Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl is a terrific book for anyone who loves to cook, learn about food or simply loves to eat.
As always, a complete review of this book follows my blog.