Archive for the ‘Difference’ Category

Color Conscious…

November 7, 2011

“Brownings, Please” So exclaimed the headline of the Jamaica Gleaner, one Sunday, September last. Even before reading the article, and fully aware that I am still learning to fully comprehend variegate Jamaican vernacular, I felt quite secure in my determination that this was not about cooking. I was reminded of a TV programme I watched last year while flying back to Portland, Oregon from Montego Bay.

That show was CNN’s “Kids On Race: The Doll Study Revisited.” In a recreation of a 1947 experiment, a group of children were asked to choose the good, bad, ugly, pretty or “one that looks like me” doll from drawings ranging in hue from pale pink to dark chocolate, or, white to black. Almost across the board when asked to select the “doll” with positive traits the children chose the “white” one. When picking the negatives, yep you guessed it, they picked the darkest dolly, the “black” one.

Though not my first time observing this type of experiment and sadly, not surprised, my heart still ached as I questioned, again, how it was that, Anno Domini 2011, sixty plus years on, with the leader of the “free” world a milk-coffee-colored cousin, that the “barely out of diapers” future leaders of our world (and as current headlines imply, suit clad corporate leaders) continue to learn, and believe to the detriment of hue-manity, these putrid but persistent lessons? What are we adults teaching our children? And why are we adults perpetuating the madness? Obviously something is a miss. (Incredulous, I ask myself, and anyone who can hear, “Why are we still having this conversation?”) Something is not working, or then again, maybe that was the plan all along. But I digress.

It has shocked and saddened me during my journeys to the land of my parents, my ancestors; the home of my own vagabond, or wandering, soul, that the same self-hatred and disdain for one’s darkness, blackness, abundance of melanin, visibly evident African heritage, that reigns and rages, in the United States of America (and beyond) permeates this – rich, bounteous of spirit, heart and life – little island of Jamaica.

My mother had told stories of when as a child, being darker of hue and shackled with the twin shame of poverty, her “place” was in the back of the classroom at the “good” school she attended, and even that only because her mother washed its floors. Still, I say to myself that was then…

Will we, and I mean all of hue—manity, learn the truth of whom we truly are and what skin shade simply is at its core? Can we purge ourselves of the poisons we have been fed, disguised as lessons and learning; the blatantly illogical yet pernicious lies that corrupt us, our colors, our consciences, our compassion? Can we reclaim our power, take back our hearts, reaquaint with ourselves? Can we become the conquistadores of our own personal Freedom?

What if one knew that melanin is what colors us, what paints us uniquely in shades from milk to midnight; that technically, it is due either to abundance or deficiency, that we humans become black or white.

What if it was common knowledge that melanin is what darkens our skin, our hair, our eyes? Melanin helps us hear, colors our hearts, our blood, liver, the marrow in our bones, and gave “birth” to the stars.

What if you knew that melanin is protector, reflector, diviner, deflector, healer, highway-to-the-Divine; the almighty alchemist; the chemical of life? One-drop being sanctifier not stain – the key to life’s door?

What if you knew that billions of dollars of global government monies have been spent, and are continuing to be spent, studying melanin…and its magic?

Melanin is the most absorbent material known to man. It is melanin in a synthetic form that provided the insulation protecting the electrical wires of the now retired NASA Space Shuttle.

What if these truths were known to all human kind?
Imagine with me for a moment…

A rending of the cloak of inferiority, victim-hood, self-hatred, worn by the melanin-infused among us; this cloak woven and gifted “in the name of love, and God.”

The silencing, once and for all, of the perpetually repeated lies of white supremacy. The diminishing of the potency and power of color prejudice, and its big daddy racism.

We all, each one of us of every hue, have (are) melanin. What if we all knew and understood this?

What if commonsense/the universe/Sophia/wisdom/Goddess/God, whispered and we listened, really listened to her, “If you need a touch of melanin just to function, might that suggest the more you have, the greater thou can be?

Could humankind walk hand in hand, freed, no longer needing to run, hinder, hide, detach, crush, control, squelch, the “other;” able finally, to let go, relax and open to the unique foibles and fortes of each individual, no matter their skin tone?

Imagine knowing, deep in your heart, in the marrow of your bones, in your soul, in your melanin, that, like chlorophyll to plants, melanin to man, is the alpha and the omega?

No person, rule, wrong, “Doll Study” or “Brownings, Please” could ever take that away.

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Human salvation …

October 23, 2010

This Martin Luther King quote was in an email I received today. It resonated so much that I simply had share.

Does it speak to you?

Communal storytelling fosters a sense of human connection

April 16, 2010

Reminiscing one day with my sister, she reminded me of how I used to keep her awake — snotty with laughter, at bedtime — regaling her with stories about naughty Nabeel, a little boy who had a penchant for riding “bare-back” upon the cat’s ear. She had me chortling, and snorting, as I remembered those times, now well over three decades ago. I was instantly transported to a time in my life of belonging, when I truly felt loved.

Humans since the beginning of time have beguiled each other with stories, personal and communal, fables and sagas. Some of these tales have been, in our sophisticated civilization, pooh-poohed as mere myths, fabrications of the mind and imagination. Yet these stories, like the figments of my own fantasticality, have a tendency to stay with us — to root us, and remind us, of where and what we have come from. And that is the beauty of a story, no matter how odd, fanciful, incredulous it may be, it is still a story, someone’s or, many people’s story. It still has power and meaning and place. Even history, that amalgam of facts and many a fanciful folk tale, at its core, is simply collections of “his” “story” and, of course, “her” “story,” “our story.”

It has been said that what once was old becomes new again, and again. Will Fuller, Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc, Schools Committee Chair has dreamed up a way to bring back the way of our ancestors, for one night, (to start), to the Multnomah Arts Center. On Friday, April 23 at 6:30 p.m., “Sharing Our Family Stories,” sponsored by The Office of Neighborhood Involvement and Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc., Small Grant Program, will debut.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an evening of personal history and storytelling to celebrate the varied lives and experiences of all people in Southwest Portland. Inspired by Robert Gray Middle School’s Project R.E.A.C.H. and Jackson Middle School’s “Peopling The Nation” Family History Project, where eighth-grade students conduct in-depth research into the background (ethnicity, religion, immigration routes and life highlights) of one family relative, or ancestor, and relate their individual stories, orally and visually, to members of their school community. The original intention of these family history projects was, in my opinion, to afford the children opportunities to learn about and from each other, to dispel or at least begin to diminish the power of the myths and stereotypes of “the other.” A way, I like to think, to help them “know,” particularly in this era of multiculturalism, that we are all, no matter color or culture, inherently human, with rich, different, yet equally important stories.

The aim of “Sharing Our Family Stories” is to foster human connection, healing and community in Southwest Portland. Robert Gray and Jackson Middle School eighth-grade students will facilitate the cross-cultural, cross-generational roundtable dialogues with community members. The students will first recount their personal chronicles. All who listen will be invited to share their own tales.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an invitation to all to break bread together (light snacks will be provided), to meet, human to human, heart to heart, at the table of unity and take turns at being storyteller. So each person may, like the ancient storytellers, griots, and fabulists of lore — whose role it was to educate, nurture, entertain, and ultimately unite their people in love, play their small but mighty part in uniting, in humanity and love — our neighborhoods, our community. The ancients knew that the need to be heard is inherent in all humans. To be heard is to belong. To belong is to be loved.

Everyone has a story to tell. What is your story? Your epos or memoir might star, instead of a mischievous munchkin wildly riding the cat’s ear, an unctuous uncle who sailed in on the big ship Newgate; a chief whose ancestors came with the territory, or a mother Goddess who flew Boeing over the sea. It is your story to tell. Please do.

For additional information and to reserve your place at the community story table e-mail schools@swni.org, or telephone 503-764-5501.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 Edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Request for an omission shows the need for inclusion

February 11, 2010

I am an angel.

I am dark.

Dark as mother earth.

I am an angel.

I am a black angel.

Feel my spark.

I performed my original song, “Black Angel,” at Colored Pencils Art and Culture, One-Year Anniversary Celebration at City Hall this past month.

Colored Pencils is, in the words of founder and Portland artist Nim Xuto, “…a group of newcomers, poets, artists and like-minded people of all colors who gather together once a month to sing, read poetry, and perform in our native languages.”

I am golden.

I am goddess.

I am dark.

I am divine.

Singing my own words, my own truth, for an audience is an exhilarating, humbling and nerve-wracking experience. My dormant familiar inner dialogue never fails to resuscitate immediately before I begin: “Did you practice enough? No. Relax, it’s the words, Sharon.” Nevertheless, gladly taking the stage I smile, inhale, invoking supporting spirits. Strumming and singing my heart, the universe cradles me, the audience smiles back at me. They are listening to my words.

I am regal.

I am rebel.

I am dark.

I am divine.

A man approached me afterward. Shaking my hand, he tells me how much he enjoyed my song. He remains standing before me. I feel my being expand in the warmth of his admiration and I remember the little girl in Jamaica shyly confessing that my song made her cry happy tears. Present again, I await this man’s continued, sure to be complimentary, commentary.

“… But you need to take out the ‘black.’”

Eloquence, articulacy and pride escape me, rapidly deflating me. Discombobulated, a tad perturbed, I am ready to jettison my halo, pluck my wings and climb into conveniently materialized cloven hooves. Miraculously, recovering vocabulary and sense, I am able to exclaim: “I am black.” Momentarily relieved as I glimpse my white angel friend (a.k.a. potential ally) in my, thankfully, re-expanding scope of view, I am quickly forced to refocus while contemplating whether angels can, indeed, fly backward.

Nobody ever talks about angels like me.

I can move mountains.

I have birthed seas.

Transmigrated, I right my halo and fluff my wings.

“You need to take out the ‘black,’” the man repeats in a soft, but menacing tone, akin to that of a concerned but seething parent.

Reconnected, mercifully, with my inner seraph, I patiently explain that I sing of black angels to counter the accepted norm, or mythology, that angels are only white. I shared my belief that we humans are angels, too, and we appear in every color. Sadly, I did not assuage his fears. He stomped off repeating his warning that I needed to take the “black” out.

Where angels are concerned, black angels are not often considered, nor depicted. If they are, they are dismissed as white angels gone astray; the fallen, the naughty anomaly, or quite simply a sullied one covered in soot.

In this life I know there is a lesson in every surprise, every disappointment – every happening. I am grateful for this truth, even as I ponder the pedagogy. The “art of gratitude,” unlike “the art of the guitar,” which I have a tendency to wing, I do practice, regularly. So, thank you white angel in men’s clothing, for liking my song and requesting that I eradicate the “black.”

In these our multicultural times we humans/angels habitually find ourselves mired in the black and white divide of good versus evil. I sing “Black Angel” as antidote to the poison of that gap, or as a tool to use, if one wishes, to assist in navigating your own way out of the quagmire.

Thank you also for teaching me that I need to dare to keep singing “Black Angel.” Try to remember, you, too, are an angel. You, too, are divine, and, as you did concede, angels do come in all colors. You are free to choose your own hue, however I reiterate:

I am golden.

I am goodness.

I am dark.

I am a black angel.

I am.

I am.

I am divine.

This column originally appeared in the January 2010, edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper

Little one’s jaw-dropping question reveals similarities, friendship

November 19, 2009

Different. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the word “different” means: not alike, dissimilar, not the same, distinct, unlike most others, unusual, various. All perfectly benign definitions, wouldn’t you say? I mean a daisy is indeed not the same as a daffodil, and it is definitely distinct from a dahlia.

Who among us would be perturbed should one of our offspring, or a child in our charge, question out loud as to why a daisy is so much shorter than a daffodil? Few, I suspect. Why then do we adults have a tendency to become conversationally impotent, embarrassed and even angry when similar enquiry is made about dissimilar characteristics in human beings?

Strolling along Waikiki Beach with my sons Moses and Malik (who at that time were ages 3 and 1, respectively), a little person with a parrot on his shoulder walked toward us. I immediately began to panic – and it was not because of the parrot. I silently prayed that Moses would not notice the little man, (the parrot would have, of course, been fine, but dear Lord, not the man) and surreptitiously quickened my pace.

Alas, ’twas not to be. Sharp-eyed and precocious Moses clocked the man and promptly bellowed: “Mummy, why is that man so short?” As I struggled for composure and tried to convince myself that nobody else had heard his “whisper,” he barreled on: “Does he talk?”

Had the sands, at that moment, parted and Mother Earth swallowed me whole, leaving my children waifs and strays in unfamiliar and potentially hostile territory, I would have thanked her profusely. Unfortunately, salvation via terra was not to be mine. The atmosphere inhaled, the tide froze in ebb, and a million eyeballs assaulted me, boing-ing maniacally in my peripheral vision. There was nowhere to run to, if I could have managed movement. Trapped and struck dumb, peering down I met Moses’ expectant “curiosity colored in innocence” expression. My mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, I ineffectively sucked at the air. Finally, mercifully, the incognito wise woman within me responded: “I don’t know Moses, why don’t you ask him?” All at once a gentle breeze blew, the tide flowed, and eyeballs retreated to sockets. Or maybe, it was simply that, delivered from fear, I was breathing again.

Moses spoke to the little man, discovering that he did indeed talk, even though he remained short, and for the rest of our holiday they were beach buddies on first-name terms. The man (I must confess, I have forgotten his name, but not the lesson learned) thanked me for seeing the human in him, and ultimately giving my child permission to do the same.

Somewhere along the line in our civilization we have learned that “different” when applied to human beings – whether it be difference in skin color, physical ability, attributes, sexual orientation, gender or stature – can be something not nice, something abnormal, something less than, something not to be discussed (or acknowledged for that matter) in polite conversation, and certainly not with the children.

But different is a fact of life. Different is, as the sky is, as the wind is, simple, natural, nature’s gift, and oh so necessary. Variety, as that trite (but true) expression states, is the spice of life.

A dahlia is different from a daisy. I am different from you, as you are different from Moses, as he is different from that little man in Hawaii. It is nothing to be ashamed of – no need for shrouding in secrecy and silence. Ultimately, you and I, and he, and we, are all, magnificently human.

So, let us each commit to honoring our differences, but celebrating our sameness, our oneness in humanity. And the next time a child in your life lustily expresses their curiosity about a fellow human being, don’t shush, or shame (or wish for the ground to eat you). Dare to dialogue out loud and proud. You will learn something potent and, who knows, you might make a new friend.

This article originally appeared in the November, 2009, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.