As we all unfortunately know, the Charlottesville attack happened over the weekend prompting the expected chatter on social media. "Enough is enough!" "Trump's emboldened people!" "See not all terrorists are brown!" "Not all white people are racist." I always feel some type of way about racism, particularly when rears its ugly head high enough for the mainstream media to report on it. Racism crushes my soul in such a way that I cannot fathom living through the the 50's and 60's (or really 400 years prior).
Race has been a deeply personal issue for me because, outside of having a beating heart, I am biracial. My father is a first generation American from a Hindu family in India, and my mother's family is of German Mennonite descent from farmlands of Lancaster County, PA. Raised by my blond hair, blue eyed mother, people frequently used to ask if I was adopted. Tan skin, big brown eyes, and a big brown afro to match, I certainly didn't look like her, or any of my neighborhood friends in the suburbs of Orlando.
I grew up not knowing what I was, not really being deeply exposed to my family's cultures on either side. To this day, my dad is very stingy with facts about my origin. I had heard I had a half brother in Puerto Rico - did that mean I was Puerto Rican too? I didn't even get to meet him until I was 17. I didn't meet anyone else from my father's side until I was 25, and I only found out about them through Facebook.
My parents divorced when I was 3 and my mother couldn't see far enough past her beef with my dad to share stories of how they met, or what it was like when they were married. What did they see in each other and why did they divorce?
Having hardly any context to where I came from left me feeling like an orphan in a lot of ways for the majority of my life. I wasn't considered white to white kids, Indian to Indian kids, Latina to Latino kids. Add the fact my stepfather was Jewish - so I celebrated Jewish holidays for 10 years, but wasn't actually Jewish or accepted as one.
I didn't see people in magazines or TV that looked like me until Janet Jackson's Velvet Rope album came out - I DIED when I saw someone as amazing as her on that cover with hair exactly like mine. I used to joke that I was the "White Airhead" - the mystery flavored taffy candy - because it was up to whoever I came across to decide for themselves what I was that day.
I tell this lengthy story to say that I can't begin to understand hating another race, because I never got to belong to one in the first place. And while I grew up envious of kids that got to fit in, or even look like their parents or siblings, I'm grateful today that my racial and religious ambiguity allowed me to identify with all of them in a way.
Of all the things I read in the the subsequent days following the attack, a friend's post about trying to explain racism to her 4 year old daughter Ariana, with the crayons they happened to be coloring with while watching the news, struck me the most. I don't have kids, but I imagine trying to explain racism to a child is much more excruciating than lecturing them about condoms when they're 16.
She said to her daughter, "It’s like green telling pink that green is better and then all of the greens go along with it. She looked at me all confused and said but pink is better? I said, well, pink is just a color and the green marker can color the world and our paper just as much as pink can, they are just colors. One is not better than the other. The conversation got very confusing because of course being a girl, she loves pink and kept insisting that it’s better because she thinks it is. I started to ponder that this world that we live in and the events we are going through, is truly being judged like a 4-year-old judges colors."
The hopeless idealist in me attempted to write this in an effort to prove there is more to it than that, despite feeling more defeated with each passing day's news headline. Some crayons fear what they don't understand, and they only meet others as deeply as they have met themselves. Too many of us are so out of touch with who we are at our core (what we truly value, are we living authentically, what motivates us, do we appreciate life) that we are unable to successfully learn about and relate to other people.
How can you find parallels between yourself and another when you aren't honest about who you are? Just as you can't truly love another unconditionally without mastering it toward yourself first, people whose souls are lost can't even begin to profoundly connect with another person, period.
We've continuously heard it echoed that love trumps hate, but hate is easier when the going gets tough. We have become lazy, and more cynically, spineless. Ironically while kindness, forgiveness, and vulnerability all take the most courage, people who exhibit those qualities get condescendingly pegged as sensitive or weak.
Can you differentiate your thoughts from your feelings? Are you aware of ways you've been indoctrinated by the community you live in, the news you watch, and the family that raised you? Can you point to the roots of your beliefs? Do you even think to question what you actually believe vs the things that has programmed into your brain over time?
Too many crayons are too scared to admit what they don't know or understand because their biggest fear is being exposed as ignorant, uncultured, racist, or worst, somehow not good enough. We've traded in the inner child that used to annoy our parents with the broken record loop of the single question "but why?" for the insecure adult too afraid ask questions because we think we might offend someone, or that it might come out wrong and mean something negative about ourselves. And on the flip side, others are too offended by someone's honest and ignorant question that they would rather scoff than use it as a teaching moment.
Our fragile egos need to take a back seat to our desire to ask and answer questions, and more importantly, unlearn things we were once taught that have since been delegitimized. Be humble, sit down, and admit that there is something to learn from every crayon and every experience.
Too many crayons have been on autopilot for so long, it's easy to let fear take the wheel. They avoid asking questions or accept certain truths, such as the world does not revolve around you. Some crayons have been hurt and want to hurt others; Some are poisoned; Some are sick. Some crayons need to find purpose or more hobbies to fill their time so they're too busy living a life they love to hate crayons around the country. Some crayons just fucking suck. At the end of the day, too many people choose judgement over curiosity. This is applies to both themselves and the outside world.
There is a quote about apologizing that I don't think enough people have heard that says, "apologizing doesn't mean that you're right or wrong, it just means you value your relationships more than your ego." If we could spend as much time obsessing over our role in contributing to "harmonious society" as we do our ridiculous belief that we have the right to be a self appointed one man judge and jury of every thing that happens on earth, we would likely be in a better place.
Can we move forward without a "winner" being declared? Do we know how to pick our battles? Can we admit the ways we were wrong in the past about so many things that have lead to the tension we are experiencing now? Can we accept that life is beautifully rich and complicated, and inherently gray? Can we apologize to people experiencing pain that wasn't caused by us directly instead of telling them to get over it? Can we admit that we don't know everything and STFU for once?
James Baldwin said 'I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.' Truth can be painful, and a lot of people will go to great lengths to avoid it.
The painful truth is that we're all just one of billions of insignificant threads that make up the fabric of humanity. Life is everything and nothing at the same time, it's filled with equal parts miracles and tragedies, and it's painful. The truth is we can't all be the main character all the time. That were all going through this very short life together and have to share it. That we don't know what the hell we're doing or why we're here most the time. We have literally created religions to help us feel better about dying - there is life after death if you're good, don't worry! Living can be a very scary and overwhelming experience, if we let it.
Self-righteous crayons can tell themselves they're superior to another because the color of their skin, their religion, or who they decide to sleep with, but we all end up 6 feet under at the end of the day. Fighting to deny someone an equal existence on this earth is not only laughable, it is no one's right. It doesn't make any one crayon's life more significant or meaningful than the next, it doesn't make one's life more permanent, and it's only a temporary distraction from the truth - we are all one. The narrative is short sighted and tired, but I can understand the desire to avoid insignificance.
Acceptance and tolerance has been a something we've been preaching forever, but it has primarily been used in relation to other people. We need to start truly loving, accepting and tolerating all ourselves, even the parts we don't like or understand, if we're ever going extend that kindness to someone else. Kendrick Lamar said "It was always me vs the world, but then I found its me vs. me," and until the majority lets go of the fear that feeds their demons, we won't have true peace; but in the meantime, we can choose to not give up or give in. We may never beat them, but don't join them. Don't let them bring out the worst in you. Lead by example. Don't stoop. Be humbled by the adversity. Don't engage in wars with idiots.
So, tell Ariana that she can love pink with all her heart, and that someone else feels the same way she does about pink, about green. It's not about what color is better, it's recognizing that they're both crayons from the same box here for the same reason - to color; they are loved the same way by someone else coloring; and both can only color the world so much in their own way before turning into little nubs that can't color any more and get tossed away. That's the common denominator.