With the fiftieth anniversary of The March On Washington in all the news, I was brought back to my childhood and my first experience with racism. My parents were basically good people, but they were influenced by the times. I was just eight years old and it was the first week of school in St. Paul, Minnesota where I was born. I lived in a German neighborhood; my father had grown up in the house he brought my mother to live in before I was born. I enjoyed growing up there and had lots of friends. One day I came home from school and proudly announced to my mother that I had a new friend, a boy my age. What happened next would stay with me for the rest of my life. She leaned down and asked me what his color was. Her question startled and puzzled me, because I could not see why that was important. I thought for a minute, then answered her with the truth “I don’t know.” She seemed annoyed by my answer. “What do you mean you don’t know?” But the truth was I honestly couldn’t remember, because it wasn’t important to me. What was important was how nice he was and how much fun we had playing together at recess. My mother’s question disturbed me, although I didn’t show it. She had created a feeling of separation between us, a feeling that we were different and that difference wasn’t good although it was never stated. “What’s his name,” she asked and I was happy that I knew the answer, “His name is Tommy White,” I said. Then I asked if I could invite him over to play; she didn’t say no, but I knew it made her uncomfortable. I never forgot our little interaction because the ideals and moral principles that I was taught didn’t fit with this picture. Racism is taught, children don’t judge others by the color of their skin, adults do, and children imitate their parents. I always believed in equality and fairness to all and that was innate in me. When I look back at that little girl, I’m very proud of her for knowing that judging someone for such a superficial reason was wrong. I didn’t realize how amazing that was then, but my ability to keep what I thought was the truth close to my heart in spite of what others thought around me, would turn out to be a talent that would separate me from ideas and a collective consciousness that would only have limited me.
With the anniversary of The March On Washington and the release of Lee Daniel’s The Butler, a brilliant movie about the civil rights era, I was surprised to see that the front-page news was the exoneration of Paula Deen, or should I say her court case on racial discrimination had been dismissed, probably due to a settlement. Is this southern belle, known for her fried food and butter, guilty of more than just an unhealthy diet? I say she’s guilty, but her crime is ignorance.
In her youth Paula was a struggling mom who used her love of food and good business sense to create a dynasty. However, notoriety and an expanding bank account do not guarantee that ones consciousness will also grow. Insisting that blacks use back entrances and separate toilets is abusive in any era, but particularly today. To admit that your dream dinner party includes men dressed as slaves is so out of touch with today’s world that it makes one wonder how a celebrity could be so unconscious. Obviously, Paula never integrated the pain and suffering of African Americans with the joys and privileges of being a white southerner. Before you judge her though, it might be wise to look at your own life. Where are you unconscious? Where do you hold on to the joyful memory of an experience solely by refusing to acknowledge that there was a negative or painful part to it also? Paula lost a fortune and her reputation for her lack of awareness. What could you loose by protecting a portion of your thoughts and memories from the truth?
Pockets of fantasies are dangerous because they make you unconscious and unaware and this leads to trouble. So before you cast the first stone and condemn Paula, figure out what you are keeping on your island away from the rest of your consciousness? Paula Deen reached the top, but she couldn’t hold on to her success, because she wasn’t aware. She saw herself as a good, compassionate, loving woman and she had no concept of how some of her thoughts and habits were hurtful to others. Pain or a loss of financial resources is often the best teacher. Look within and don’t be afraid to live in reality – yours and the reality of others – they both exist.
As I was having breakfast this morning I found myself starring at Madonna’s gold and diamond teeth on the cover of The Post and a few minutes later I was reading about Ben Affleck having been chosen to play Batman. Apparently, the social network was abuzz registering their disapproval. Madonna and Ben were under attack. Let me go on record that I’m not crazy about Madonna’s new attention-getter, nor would I have picked Ben Affleck for Batman, but I am open minded. Madonna is not too old to try new things, which was a major complaint. She will never be too old to shock the world and it’s one reason I admire her. She incorporates change with such ease we could all learn from it. Never is Madonna afraid to put herself out there and risk criticism and rejection. She is fearless. As for Ben, let’s give him a chance. Why do we all have to put others in a box and throw away the key? If you’re creative, you want to express yourself in new ways, access a different side of yourself and add depth to your image. Unfortunately, when our icons make choices we don’t agree with, we get angry, frustrated or annoyed. But we don’t have to; we could go with the flow and concentrate on changing something in our own lives instead of trying to keep others in a box.
The world has become polarized, but it may just be a prelude to change. Whenever there is a pull to surrender, to accept a new and greater point of view, instinct has one pull back into ones comfort zone, into the exact ideas and ideals that need to be changed – we don’t want to let them go. Most people are afraid of the unknown, although it is this amazing place that allows new ideas to flourish, new opportunities to present themselves, new possibilities in general. Do you really want to live in supposed comfort (it’s really routine) built from fear? The human spirit needs to soar, it needs to be free of limitations and express itself in new ways or it shrinks and loses its power. Give your spirit a shot of nourishment and allow it to take you some place you haven’t been. That place could be just one more block than you usually walk, a different turn in the road, a conversation with a stranger, a moment to contemplate the beauty of the sky or the delicateness of a single flower. Beauty surrounds around you if you open your eyes to see it, new paths lay before you; don’t be afraid to explore.