Archive for the ‘Knowledge’ 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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Thanksgiving/A Day of Mourning

November 25, 2010

Today, November 25, 2010, is another one of those all-American Thanksgiving holidays. It is a day when those privileged to be American (or reside there) are freed from the grind of work – and paid – so they may gather with their friends and families and stuff themselves silly on turkey, booze and all the other accoutrements associated with the Thanksgiving celebration. To revel and take pride in the benevolence, fortitude, generosity, and all-around goodness of the American pioneers, and particularly in this case, the Pilgrims. Maybe the dinner table is decorated with colorful paper turkeys created by the Bobs and Belindas, and Shaniquas,  Johns and Sulayvans under the guidance of and assisted by gluey digited teachers.

It is a shame that the Thanksgiving tale we are told is a lie (along with lots and lots and lots of other tales we have been told, but today is Thanksgiving’s turn.) The actual truth is just a teensy, weensy, bit, (and I do use this term facetiously) different.

For an Native American perspective and to read a surpressed speech click here.

We are all human beings made from the same matter, with equal ability for malevolence and good. Unfortunately, due to the wickedness of some and the intentional withholding of information and truth, we are not meant to realize that we know this. It is inherent in our hearts. But our hearts are so hardened and coated in crust and learning.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” We, humanity cannot heal, cannot come together until we re-remember that we all are one. Dare to be empowered. Free your mind so you may liberate your heart, so it can beat in unison with all.

Enjoy your turkey, but chew, swallow, and be sated, in the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The Shadow

June 11, 2010

Me, My Shadow - I!

It is within me
All about me
It is me

My mirror
My muse
My reflection
My ruse
It is me

It is my left leg
Or maybe right
My daytime
Or my night
It is me

It is my sunshine
It is my pain
It is my thunder
It is my rain
It is me

It is my trail
It is my wail
It is my own personal Holy Grail
It is my magic
It is my menace
My terrific
Or my tragic
It is me

It is my womb
It is my wonder
It is me

It is dispassionately awaiting
My evasion
Or my embrace
It is my path to peace, purgatory,
Or wherever
However, I get to choose

It is my lifelong partner
Beckoning me to dance
If I dare
And with whom I will die
With, or without, care

Wake up! There are three snakes in your bed

June 11, 2010

Imagine yourself awaking, stretching as you leisurely unfurl yourself, eyes closed, into a regal recline. You are the mother of two rambunctious, loveable rascals whom have not as yet arisen.

You are luxuriating in the resonance of an audible inner exhale that thrills your every cell as it breathes from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, when, surrendering to the “Ahh,” your Zen is shattered by a helium-high pitched “One. Two. Three.” In stereo!

Welcome to one morning in my world. The boys were up. I opened my eyes to witness them cocksuredly laying out on the other pillow in my bed, their catch of the day, three lithe, not so little, garden snakes. Do you have any idea what freshly captured garden snakes smell like?

There they stood, Moses and Malik, wide-eyed, breathless, proud as peacocks, grinning Cheshire cats; the cats that got the cream. I could conjure another cliché, but you get the picture I am sure.

My gut reaction, the girly-girl in me. Yes, I know this is non politically correct language, but this is the truest way I can describe that particular bit of the many bits that make up the whole of me. Do you want to know what the woman/hag/crone/angel/witch/goddess/mother in me, wanted to do to my darlings?

Anyway, as I was saying, the girly-girl in me wanted to wretch, scream, hurl – all over Moses and Malik, not the serpents – but then I remembered Gwendoline. Gwendoline, heroine, star, of my little picture book, “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! I Love Bugs!”

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what Gwendoline is made of, but, Gwendoline loves all things squiggly, wiggly, creepy and crawly. Yes! Gwendoline loves bugs! Forgive me but, cheek-to-cheek, in full pillow-patter pose with three ticked off ophidians, there is no distinction between a worm and a snake.

As I thought of Gwendoline, my stomach settled and I found my breath. Did you know you can breathe through your skin? I sat reclining, admittedly at this point more rigid than regal, smiling wanly, somewhat stupefied, and questioned how my life had come to this. No prince charming on my pillow. No knight in shining armor, only three Thamnophis Sirtalis serpents on my bolster, and Moses and Malik, fruit of my womb, standing to attention, positively glowing in exaltation. Had my offspring presented me at that time, with the Hope diamond, or a hundred-million-dollar winning lottery ticket, they could not have been more certain of their worth and entitlement to my deepest gratitude and undying love. I marveled at how I had never, in my wildest dreams (and I am she of the wild reverie,) imagined that this would be my life.

Do you know what? Looking back I am so glad I had never imagined so many of things that have been my life, for had I, I would have run hard and fast the other way (whichever direction that might have been.) Boy would I have missed out on so many weird and wonderful experiences.

I mean, one has not lived unless one can truthfully say, “I have reclined in bed with three snakes simultaneously – the reptile kind!”

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

Oreos?

May 10, 2010

Aren’t they a type of cookie comprised of chocolate-colored cookies on either side of a sweet, cream, white-colored filling? Flour, high fructose corn syrup and food coloring in pretty packaging. There is no nutritional value in this item that I can ascertain. Yet, academics have been known to pontificate profusely about this “cookie.” People of color spit this “food” at each other, intending to wound, belittle, and ostracize.

Living here in this land of the free and home of the brave, I learned that being deemed an Oreo implies that a person of color, specifically of African descent, who attempts to ascend the ladder of “success” by becoming “educated,” speaking “proper” English, enjoying Classical music, or anything outside of Hip Hop, is “trying to be white.” Apparently, said traits are synonymous with whiteness.

Now, I will concede I am a foreigner, an alien, according to the US government, albeit a legal one, but from where I sit, and I confess, sipping tea, it makes no sense to me. I have to ask, “Who animated this biscuit and allowed it to escape the cookie jar?” Does anyone realize this pseudo-confection has neither legs, nor power, unless one believes in the lie of white supremacy?

When did we (I include myself here, for I am black, although in reality I am, like you, ultimately iridescently human, inside and out,) as a people so thoroughly lose our way? Yes, one could argue that slavery misdirected us all.  But if we dare to dig we will discover that our ancestors, yes the illiterate slave ones, did not sell their souls for a cookie, or even a whole jar. How is it we have allowed ourselves to be indoctrinated so?

The Latin root of the word “educate” is “educare” which means to draw forth from within. What is within us is an indomitable, inviolate, inner strength, our spirit. We, blinded by learning, manmade material lack, and ingested inferiority, have allowed this spirit to be educated out of us.

What if we could remember ourselves, rediscover our spirit and the strength of our ancestors and reacquaint ourselves with our truth?

What if you believed that the roots of humanity live in you, in your black African indigenous roots? That Africans, blacks, have been in the Americas, since long before Columbus and that there are ancient monuments 20,000 years old, and older, proving this?

What if we discerned that throughout modern history, obstacles camouflaged as Laws, Parliamentary Acts, mandated multiculturalism and prejudices, have been constructed to hinder the prosperity and progress of the dark ones among us and keep the truth far, far, away from our consciousness?

What if you knew that many Africans who were brought here were Queens, Kings, Princesses and Priests, nobles, regal, revered and innately powerful people?

What if we understood that the ability to communicate fluently in Standard English is a tool for all humans of all hues, nothing more nothing less?

What if you knew that in United States Army Intelligence tests during World War I, blacks led the whites in several states, north and south?

Prior to desegregation, black people enjoyed academic competence, even with substandard resources. When they dared to demand better buildings, books, etc, desegregation was enacted. While children were bussed to more resource-rich schools, self-esteem, or spirit, was intentionally shuttled elsewhere. The Institution of Education pulled off one of the greatest bait and switches in history.

What if we knew that the first slaves brought to the Americas, were not black but white, mostly British Europeans. Transportation of convicts was a regular pursuit through the 17th and 18th centuries. Between 1737 and 1767 approximately 20,000 of these felons were deposited in Maryland alone. America was considered the “graveyard of the white race.” These “carcasses” are the forefathers, and mothers, of today’s dominant culture.

What if you knew that far from being the inept, inherently naughty, criminal cretins depicted in the media, Africans, nubians, blacks, melanistic peoples, provided western civilization with the fundamentals of music, mathematics, medicine, spirituality and yoga? There were no jails, locks, or bolts in the villages from whence the African’s came. Such controls were not needed.

The “Father of medicine” was not Hippocrates, a Greek, but Imhotep a Nubian, a black African. What if we were cognizant of this?

Famous missionary, Dr. Livingstone, stated, “Syphilis dies out in the African interior. It seems incapable of permanence of any form in persons of pure African blood.” What if you knew that the Africans brought to the “New World” had neither, tuberculosis, syphilis, nor any other venereal disease? Makes one wonder, why then the Tuskegee Airmen syphilis experiments that continued for 28 years (yes 28,) after World War II ended.

What if you knew that the Greek historian, Herodotus who visited Egypt around 450 BC, described the Kamitian people (ancient Egyptians) as having black skin and woolly hair? Somewhat different from the tan, eurocentric depictions in our textbooks. The original name of ancient Egypt, “Khemet” means black and is the root of “chemistry?”

What if you knew that both Beethoven, the world’s greatest musician (“short, stocky, broad shoulders, short neck, round nose, blackish-brown complexion”) and Joseph Haydn, were black?

Could chewing on, the foregoing, instead of a sugary snack, allow you to see yourself, and your black brethren as equally, yet individually, uniquely, capable? Might it liberate us, like wildflower seeds scattered upon fertile soil, to blossom and bloom however we may, with no need to feign, claim, or foist whiteness or anything else, and own our right to all possibility in human form?

I do not know, nor do I purport to know your truth. However, I do know that I am committed to neither ingesting nor lobbing Oreos. There are only home-baked, home-styled biscuits in my biscuit tin.

What is in your cookie jar?

A version of this article appeared in the January/February/March, 2010, Edition of The Beloved Community Journal

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.

It is what it is.

March 9, 2010

It is what it is. Ultimately, it is what you do with “it” that counts.

It’s time to repay our debt to Haiti

February 11, 2010

There was an earthquake in Haiti and I took it personally.

I took it personally because while I know that earthquakes are naturally occurring events – Mother Nature stretching, tumbling and turning, aren’t they? – I knew that her mischief would provide the world yet more reasons and information to pity the Island of Mountains’ much-maligned inhabitants.

I did not have long to wait for proof of my “prophecy,” and that is not counting that famous/infamous “man of the cloth’s” proclamation of how this disaster was merely punishment from God for the Haitian people’s “pact with the devil” in exchange for their freedom.

My parents are from Jamaica, Haiti’s island neighbor directly west. Watching the aftermath of the quake news with my sons, I saw myself in the faces of the Haitian people. I saw my mother, my father, my sisters and brothers, my family. I saw my humanity and I felt exposed, helpless, defensive and increasingly angry as I recognized that many others of us would not, could not, see what I saw.

How many of us know anything about Haiti other than that it once was a colony of France and is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?

Did you know that Haiti was the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere, and the second republic, after the United States?

How many of us know the rich, troubled but true, history of Haiti? How many of us understand the role of America, Britain, Spain and France in the rise, fall and suppression of Haiti and its populace?

The African ancestors of today’s Haitians rebelled against slavery, fighting a 12-year war from 1791 to 1803, (aided by both Britain and Spain), against the French colonists and Napoleon’s army. Gen. Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared their independence on Jan. 1, 1804.

How many know that in 1801 Pres. Thomas Jefferson reversed U.S. policy toward Haiti, secretly giving France permission to reconquer the island? France failed.

How many of us can imagine securing one’s freedom only to be re-enslaved, but this time your master is not man, but money? Imagine having to pay your former master for the loss of his property, namely yourself.

France did not recognize Haiti’s independence until 1825 and only then in exchange for a financial indemnity of 150 million francs. Haiti was considered “persona non grata” by other slaveholding nations for fear its success would incite and inspire their slaves to resist. It did.

Britain abolished legalized slavery in 1807 followed by a succession of other European nations. America denounced it finally in 1865.

Did you know the Haitian resistance was the catalyst for France selling the United States its claim to Louisiana – the Louisiana Purchase – in 1803?

Haiti was forced over the years (and continues to be, sometimes it appears, by Mother Nature) to take out loans of 70 million francs to repay this indemnity and gain international recognition. As recently as 2003, Haiti disseminated repayments on international debt totaling approximately $1 million dollars per week.

I do not claim to know what is in your mind, nor your heart. I do know, however, that information, or lack thereof, can taint our benevolence, our love, which is our energy. That universal energy that we all are made of; that we all are exchanging whether we know it or not; that energy that is our currency, our most valuable resource. I know that this energy can be toxin or tonic; it can hinder or heal.

I believe truth can transmute toxin to tonic. My hope is that the foregoing truth can help you, too, see your humanity in the faces of the Haitian people (ultimately all people) so we may all bestow upon them, not pity for the benighted, but compassion for our kin.

The Haitian people, a mighty, resourceful, fiercely independent but long-oppressed people need our energy. Send money if you can. Remember though, there is healing currency aplenty inside each one of us. I believe a little truth in information can set it free.

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 February, 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.