Posts Tagged ‘Color’

Black and White

November 26, 2011

Black and White

I am an artist – a child of the universe, rich in laughter, love and life, who dares to unwrap the universe’s gifts in my own truth. I create “Wonderfully Whimsical Works of Art by Sharon Martini” in which the colors black and white feature prominently. I outline the solid blocks of vibrant color that make up my pictures with black lines, and partner black and white in the borders.

As much as red – bright, blood, scarlet, primary red – is my absolute favorite color, I do not consider my creations complete without an abundance of black and white. To me black and white are the yin and yang of my creations, balancing out my compositions. Sort of day and night, dark and light, without either of which, none of my illustrations can be whole.

I love the way the contrast of the colors together, side-by-side, create harmony and balance, equilibrium in my drawings, informing me of their completion. Individually, their active energy sparkles, sharpens, defines and renders tangible my imagination. For me, the colors black and white are necessary, both stimulating and calming components of my two and three-dimensional creative world.

In contemporary Western society however, these two colors can facilitate chaos, consternation and frequently, cruelty. Black and white typically symbolize opposites; the dichotomy of good and evil, love and hate, angels and demons. They are loaded with cultural, spiritual, societal and linguistic connotation. To ascertain why this might be, when for me, black and white means artistic bliss, let’s take a look at the “stories” of black and white, beginning with the color aspect?

If you take a color wheel, you will find red, yellow, orange, purple, blue, green, and hues in between. No matter how hard you twist, turn, or spin the wheel though, you will not find the colors black or white.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, color is defined as, “The visible aspect of things caused by the differing qualities of the light reflected or emitted by them. A dye, pigment or paint that imparts a hue and skin tone.” So far so good, I am, as I mentioned earlier, partial to black and white paint in my artwork.

Delving further into definitions, black is defined as, “The achromatic color of maximum darkness; the color of objects that absorb nearly all light of all visible wavelengths.” White is defined as, “The achromatic color of maximum lightness; the color of objects that reflect nearly all light of all visible wavelengths.” Ah hah! Black and white are colors, of a kind. They are achromatic colors – colors without hue yet incorporate all colors on the color wheel.

Fine, fabulous so far. Let us now peek at some black and white synonyms. For black we have, soiled, (as from soot,) dirty, evil, wicked, depressing, gloomy, angry, sullen, morbid, dark. And white ones include, but are certainly not limited to, light-colored, pale, blank, unsullied, pure, snowy, incandescent, clean. Oh my! The scales are definitely tipping in favor of one color over the other, instigating division, as we dive into descriptions. I mean, if it’s a choice between “evil” and “gloomy” or “incandescent” and “pure,” is there really any competition?

Still, it’s only language. With the aforementioned lists in mind, let’s compare some traditional, religious and/or societal interpretations and meanings.

  • The medieval Christian sect known as the Cathars viewed black as a color of perfection.
  • In the Ifá tradition the orisha Obatala is represented with white – calmness, morality, old age, and purity.
  • In the Japanese culture, Black is associated with honor, not death. Kuro (black) is a symbol of nobility, age, and experience. The black belt is a mark of achievement and seniority in many martial arts.
  • In Japanese culture, White is associated with death. Shiro (white), symbolizes serfdom, youth, and naiveté. In Shotokan karate, a white belt is a rank-less belt which comes before all other belts.
  • Black is a symbol of mourning and bereavement in Western societies.
  • In Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese and Indian tradition, white is the color of mourning and death.
  • In the Maasai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania, black is associated with rain clouds, a symbol of life and prosperity.
  • To whitewash, means to obscure the truth by issuing a blanket of lies. Also it is the action of burying or shoving someone’s face into the snow, as a form of bullying, or harassment.

From those few examples one can see that mixed in with the purity, calmness, perfection and mourning of the black and white color stories, there is much contradiction and confusion. It’s all in the interpretation, and consulting again the color wheel, I am reminded that black and white are everywhere and nowhere.

So, I am sticking with mine own interpretation – balance, harmony, artistic bliss and equilibrium. It is, quite simply, black and white.

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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.

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

Mirror, Mirror … There I Am!

May 5, 2010

This is the piece McKenzie River Gathering Foundation commissioned me to create and unveiled at “Justice Within Reach” April 10, 2010. Below is my Artist Statement and the story behind this piece my sons think is “awesome.”

Mirror, Mirror ... There I Am! by Sharon Martini

My mission with my art is to unite all people in joy.

With my exuberantly colorful, intuitive artworks, starring brown characters, I bring to the forefront, with candor and humor, the truth that we all, no matter our color or culture, are the same – inherently human – entitled to, love, peace, equal treatment and joy.

I aim to give voice, visibility and a leading role in the pictures, and on the stage of “the theatre of humanity and life,” to the dark-skinned among us, whom are so often omitted from any positive, joyful, energetic and life-giving “productions.”

In this piece, “Mirror, Mirror … There I Am!” created for MRG, these ideas are central. Social Justice, I believe begins, and ends, with being able to see oneself everywhere, in the sun, the moon, the birds, the bees, the sea, the trees, and especially in all humans of every hue, but especially the dark, melanistic peoples.

Social justice, to me, begins with the ability to be comfortable and confident in who I am, to understand and know, we all are one, with each other and every living thing. The mirrors in “Mirror, Mirror … There I Am!” with each glimpse, “reflect the I in me, so I may see, the me in you, and every living being” of each and every person who peeks at the piece.

Creating art in a variety of media – fabric collage, paint, words, nature, metals and music, I aim to unite all people in joy, to touch you with truth and make you smile.

We often forget, in these our modern, increasingly stratified, multicultural times, the healing power of a simple smile. When we smile we are so much more open to everything!

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

Nightmarish encounter leads to friendship, faith

January 22, 2010

I would rather be caught running down the street naked between spa appointments!

This was the predominant thought in my mind the morning after a dead (yes, dead as in deceased) neighbor, had “popped over” uninvited, bearing messages he wished me to deliver to his, very much alive, wife.

He believed that I could calmly knock on her door, a woman with whom I had exchanged passing hellos, but was not a familiar, and boldly state: “Hello. How are you? Oh, by the way, Bob* says to tell you he’s fine.”

This catholic lady would surely run me off her front porch brandishing, if I were lucky, a broom, shrieking: “Witch! Devil’s disciple! Somebody stone her!” Or else, she would fall down in a dead faint. Dead being the operative word and I would be found guilty of murder in the first degree due to my meddling on the “other side.” Nope, I was not going there. Somebody help me with my zipper, please?

I will not go into great detail here, but suffice it to say, during Bob’s spectral social call, I alternated between cackling at his jokes and recoiling in panic, belligerently demanding to know what the bloody hell he wanted and why me. And I wondered, had I crossed over to the other side, or simply snoozed my way into insanity? Dreamless sleep eventually redirected me from the nightmare.

Waking the next morning, something told me that the night’s phantasm had not been merely a dream, and that I did, indeed, have a delivery to make. Which is how I came to be contemplating a naked dash through the west hills. I excavated “to-do” lists from clear back in the Neolithic age that day – anything to prevent me from complying.

My ego sang me a cacophonous canon, foretelling my fate should I dare to play spiritual carrier pigeon.

“You’ll be known as the town witch. A black witch!” it keened. “People will laugh at you. Think of your children. You’ll end up the anti-social, angry hag kids torment, a crumpled old lady who hungers for human contact, but lives instead with 37 feral cats and grows out her chin hair.”

In tandem with this raucous rhetoric, I heard an incessant but kindly whisper: “You’ll not sleep until you tell.” If I had not crossed over into crazy the night before, I was spiraling rather rapidly into its abyss now. When suddenly, tranquilized, I surrendered. I made the conscious decision to do as I was told, and accept whatever consequences. In that moment I was alchemist. I met magic. With a flick of my free will my physical boundaries vanished and I became one with the air, a mass of effervescence somersaulting this way and that, in dark, inky ether.

Magic propelled me to my neighbor’s house. It maneuvered my feet up the driveway. It encouraged me as I rang the doorbell and stood for eternity in the silent darkness until, gratefully, determining no one was home, I turned to leave. A light came on. Magic ditched me (or so I believed).

Dale* stood in the doorway eyeing me expectantly. In one explosive exhale, I blurted: “You might think I’m crazy after I have said this I’ll understand if you do but I have to do this I have a message from Bob.”

I steeled myself for the blow. To my surprise, Dale gently took my hands: “Come inside,” she invited. Stupefied, I followed. She led me to a familiar room, (I had never before been inside her home), sat me down.

“Tell me what happened?” she enquired.

I visited with Dale for some time. She shared photos and stories of her life with Bob. I was humbled both by what I had been privy to and her trust in me. Leaving I confessed my terror-fueled reluctance and thanked her profusely for receiving me so graciously. She thanked me for my courage and, my faith.

I delivered a message to my neighbor and I discovered faith.

I discovered that faith is knowing in your heart, the right thing to do, acknowledging and accepting the risk of ridicule, and exposing yourself anyway – fully clothed.

*Names have been changed.

This article originally appeared in December, 2009 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.

The Story of Multiculturalism

March 17, 2009

In response to a hate incident (one week prior to the schools “famous” Multicultural Celebration) at my son’s middle school, I created the following presentation (and wrote “A Letter From A Mother,”) and displayed it at the school’s multicultural fair. I was actually nervous about bringing it in, but knew I needed to – even at risk of being thrown out. I know people are afraid of talking about race – if they only knew it isn’t real – but I believe we human beings absolutely have to talk about it. We have to be brave enough to go there; to learn what it is (or should I say, isn’t) and the harm that its spawn, racism, has inflicted on all humanity.

You will be happy to know I wasn’t run off the premises. In fact, I had some wonderfully in-depth conversations with parents, staff and administrators. However, it was interesting, and I will confess, not surprising, to see people enter the library all smiles, obviously attracted to the display, read a little, visibly recoil, and almost run away.

I really do understand the trepidation, but it is simply fear and the best way to overcome fear – to heal – is to face it. You might ask, “How does one face the fear of “race” and racism, it’s too big, it’s too deep, it’s too dangerous?” Well, I believe the only way is with the truth. I also believe it is my responsibility, to myself, to my sons, and to humanity, to do what little I can to help heal our world. So, here is a simple gift from me to you – a little (hopefully) healing truth.
 

What is multiculturalism?

Multiculturalism is Public policy for managing cultural diversity in a multi-ethnic society, officially stressing mutual respect and tolerance for cultural differences within a country’s borders. 

Multiculturalism was born from the Civil Rights Movement, which was born out of the Freedom Movement. At its root, it was created to counter institutional injustice, inequality and the Institutional Racism within the institutions that form the foundation of society – Education, Media, Finance, Justice, Religion and Marriage.

It was developed in an attempt to repair the damage wreaked by the products of institutionalized racism, i.e. Slavery, Jim Crow, and Apartheid, which resulted in the impedance to advance for specific groups of people, (people of color,) and privilege for the dominant culture (white people,) by setting guidelines and establishing procedures for the respect of, and tolerance for, people of different cultures and colors. 
 

The Language of Multiculturalism

What is Race?

 A social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification, and the social, economic, and political needs of a society at a given period of time.

The classification of Race was created for reasons of hierarchy, control and power. According to the National Association of Anthropology, there is absolutely no scientific evidence supporting the social construct of “race.” There are far greater differences between a man and a woman, than there are between the so called, “Races.” Also, there are greater differences within a group than there are between groups.
 

What is Racism?

A system of beliefs, held consciously and unconsciously, alleging the inferiority of people of color (a supposedly biologically different group) to those of members of the Dominant Culture, or, white people. 

Racism focuses on the perceived “natural” differences between groups. It is grounded in the assumption that the differences associated with, or even determine, behavior, culture, intellect or social achievement.
 

What is Institutional Racism?

Institutional Racism is “Prejudice + Privilege + Power”

Institutional Racism is an imbalance of institutional power that systematically oppresses people of color and benefits white people.
 

What is Prejudice?

 Generalized attitudes about a whole group of people; the belief that a person whom we believe (because of skin color, language, or culture) belongs to a particular group will have certain characteristics. 

Enthnocentrism, which judges others on the basis of one’s own group standards; and racism which is rooted in the notion of the biological inferiority of other groups, are all related to prejudice and often entwined with it.
 

What is Privilege?

A right that is granted to some, but not all people – even if it is perceived or stated that all people have access to it. In terms of institutional oppression it is a right based solely on a persons membership in a particular social group.


What is Institutional Power?

The power that institutions such as the media, the educational system, the government, social services, criminal justice, business, financial, health care, religion, the military, have in our society.
 

What is a Right?

 A resource or state of being that everyone has access to regardless of social group membership. For example, Human Rights.
 

What is Discrimination?

Acts taken against a person based on prejudice. Unequal treatment based on prejudice.
 

What is Harassment?

Inappropriate unwanted behavior which disturbs someone, including verbal insults and touching someone without permission. Harassment is often motivated by, or a way of acting out, prejudice, and it is a form of discrimination.
 

What is Institutional Oppression?

Systemic discrimination. It is a pattern or system of inequality, which gives power and privileges to members of one group of people at the expense of another. Oppression continues because of institutional power, widespread prejudice, repeated discrimination and built-in privilege – unless it is protested and against and changed.

 
Oppression = prejudice + institutional power + privilege
 

What is Internalized Oppression?

The process by which people who are the targets of oppression begin to believe the prejudices used against them. As a result of believing negative messages about us, we may think badly of ourselves and/or other members of the group being targeted along with us. Often the behavior linked with internalized oppression is encouraged and enforced by the privileged group to frighten individual resisters, to divide an oppressed group against itself, and to keep people from joining with other members of their group to protest.

Internalizing oppression can have survival value for individuals, but is destructive to individuals, the oppressed group, and the cause of justice in the long run.
 

What is an Agent of Oppression? 

Individuals who belong to a social group that has access to institutional power and privilege who, may or may not, actively be oppressive or use privilege against a targeted person.
 

What is Bystanding?

Watching someone being discriminated against, bullied, attached, insulted or picked on, but standing by and doing nothing to try to stop it.
 

What is a Target?

Individuals who belong to a social group that does not have access to institutional power and privilege.
 

What is being an Ally?

Standing up for someone who is a target of oppression. To become better allies, we need to understand and act to change conditions of oppression to help create justice for all.
 

Who are People of Color?

Any body deemed not white, for example, African-Americans/Africans/Blacks, Asian/Asiam-Americans, Indigenous people, Latino/as, Middle-Eastern people, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders.
 

Who are White People? 

Members of the Dominant Culture. Anybody deemed not of color.
 

What is the Dominant Culture? 

The ideas, values and perceptions of the dominant group within a society, vested with the power to impose its goals on the general populace.
 

What is Culture?

A society’s shared and socially transmitted ideas, values and perceptions – which are used to make sense of experience and generate behavior and ultimately reflected in behavior. Cultures are learned not biologically inherited.
 

What is the difference between Individual and Institutional Racism?

Racism is overt and covert. It takes two closely related forms; Individuals acting against individual people of color, and acts by total white society against people of color communities.

The first consists of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury and destruction of property. The second type is less overt: it originates in the operation of established and respected forces in our society – the exact same thing “Multiculturalism” was created to combat.

Referring to a person of color with a racial epithet is considered an act of individual racism, as is spray painting racial epithets on signs and property. 

Institutional racism results in higher numbers of people of color not graduating High School thereby maintaining the achievement gap. An article in The Oregon newspaper reported on the disparity in forms of discipline between black and white students. “If an African American child looks a teacher in the eye, it was said that it would likely be considered insubordination as opposed to if a white student did the same, where it would simply be considered, assertiveness, resulting in widely differing responses. 

African Americans make up 80% of the prison population, when they are only 12% of the total population, due to institutionalized racism within the justice and educational system. Black, Latino and Native American youth (people of color in general) are subjected to far greater surveillance than whites, resulting in higher rates of incarceration.

In American it said that the path to wealth, security and success is through home ownership and education. Throughout history, here in Portland, Oregon and throughout America, people of color, have been denied, the right to buy property, own land; access to free and equal education, and even the ability to advocate for oneself.


What is White Privilege?

Rights granted to members of the White race by way of institutional racism.

Privilege grants the cultural authority (the dominant culture) to make judgments about others and to have those judgments taken as truth. 

White people have received tremendous benefit from the legacy of slavery, segregations and the continuing racism.

In the United States a person is considered a member of the lowest status group from which they have any heritage. This means that if you come from several ethnic groups, the one that lowers your status is the one you’re most likely to be tagged with, as in “She’s part Jewish,” or “He’s part Vietnames,” but rarely, “She’s part white.” In fact, having any black ancestry is still enough to be classified as entirely black in society’s eyes (in accordance with the “one drop rule” that has been a striking feature of race relations in the United States for several centuries). People are tagged with other labels that point to the lowest-status group they belong to, as in woman doctor” or “black President,” but never “white lawyer” or “male senator.”

Any category that lowers our status relative to others’ can be used to mark us; to be privileged is to go through life with the relative ease of being unmarked.

Privilege is something bestowed.

To be born, white, male and wealthy, affords one the greatest privileges.

By virtue of the institutional system Whites as a social category oppress people of color as a social category. This is a social fact. It doesn’t however, tell us how a particular white person thinks or feels about particular people of color or behaves toward them.
 

What is a Stereotype?

A generalization about what people are like; an exaggerated image of their characteristics, without regard to individual attributes, determined by the Dominant Culture and perpetuated through Institutionalized channels.
 

What is an Ethnic Group?

Any category of people within a larger society who possess distinctive social or cultural traits, shared history and sense of commonness, regardless of group size, power, perception of certain common biographical traits.
 

What is a Perjorative Word?

A disrespectful word relating to religion, sexual orientation, gender, age and ethnicity (or a combination of these.) Perjorative words have been, and continue to be, used against people of all ethnicities and colors and ethnicities for the purpose of  belittling or disparaging them – putting them in their place.
 

What is Discrimination?

Behavior that denies equal treatment to people because of their membership in some group – parallels the beliefs, feelings, fantasies and motivations of prejudice. Stereotypes, or generalizing beliefs about others.
 

What is Diversity?

A reference to the varied national, ethnic and racial backgrounds of the United States population, but also to categories of class, gender and sexual orientation.

Diversity has come to mean a number of things in our “multicultural” society and has taken on new significance with the rise of the politics and economics of diversity, resulting in its meanings and uses depending on the social, economic or political view of the user.
 

Hate Crime

Hate crimes are defined under specific penal code sections as an act or an attempted act by any person against the person or property of another individual or group which in any way constitutes an expression of hostility toward the victim because of his or her race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, gender, or ethnicity. This includes but is not limited to threatening phone calls, hate mail, physical assaults, vandalism, cross burnings, destruction of religious symbols, and fire bombings.

Elements of crime statutes and protected classifications vary state to state.
 

What is a Hate Incident?

An incident which constitutes an expression of hostility against the person or property of another because of the victim’s race, religion, disability, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Hate-motivated incidents include those actions that are motivated by bias, but do not meet the necessary elements required to prove a crime. They may include such behavior as non-threatening name calling, using racial slurs or disseminating racist leaflets.
 

What is the meaning of the word Black? 

The absence of color due to the complete absorption of light.
 

What is the meaning of the White?

The absence of color due to the reflection of light.
 

What is the etymological meaning of Black?

The absence of color.
 

What is the etymological meaning of White?

The absence of color.
 

What is a Human Being?

Homo Sapiens. A member of the one race, the human race.
 

Thank you for receiving my simple gift of a little (hopefully) healing truth.

If you are interested in learning more this PBS website is a fabulous place to start – “Race – The Power Of Illusion.”

Sing A Song Of Healing

March 11, 2009

Since the beginning of time humans have communicated through music and song. Song has been healer, uniter, redeemer, sage, connector and liberator. Remember how freeing it is to sing, out loud, even off-key, to a favorite, or just plain annoying melody that won’t let you go? Take a moment to feel how it feels. Do you feel open, expanded, light as air – liberated? I know I do.

In our modern technology addled world, research has caught up with the natives, the primitive people, and proven the power of music and song. Children (and we are all children at heart) learn effortlessly when lessons are camouflaged in music and lyrics. It is my belief that we must hang on to our inner child, for when we do we are more apt to let life lead us everywhere, and to sing out loud and proud, even off-key!

Musical pitches have different healing frequencies which affect areas in which there is dis-ease, or disharmony, returning them to harmony, wholeness. The true meaning of the word “heal” is to make whole. It is our right and need, as humans, to live in harmony, be whole, first with ourselves and then, with everyone else.

I offer my song “What Color Are You?” as a tool for us all in our walk toward wholeness and healing for the world. (I wrote this song – among other reasons – as an accompaniment to my children’s picture book “Max and Me.”)

Sing it loud! Sing it proud! Please do sing it, even off-key!