I am crazy about color. All of them.
Red, yellow, black, white, green, blue and especially purple.
It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and I’m afraid I’m a racist.
I don’t even like to type the word because it’s so ugly.
For many years on this day I’ve been inclined to join the march downtown, but I’m scared.
Not of the other participants, but because too often, I say the wrong things. I’m overly curious about people who are different from myself and I constantly ask questions that I’m only just now learning are inappropriate.
“Can I touch your hair?” is apparently not okay.
I didn’t know that.
As young as 4 years old, I proudly proclaimed and introduced my very own brown- eyed girl, “This is my best friend Monica. She’s a Mexican.” I was more concerned with why she ate worms and her coloring skills than I was the color of her skin.
We lived by the railroad tracks back then and we were both taught not to talk to hobos.
Both of us still do.
My mother taught me about content of character before I even understood what character meant. Sesame Street made me believe that even if the color of our skin on the outside was different, we were still the same on the inside.
I taught my girls this also. But then my daughter was suspended from school for asking another student how to get a green card. That’s when I started realizing how much color really does matter.
The girls noticed the house wasn’t as clean as usual and asked me over the dinner table one night, “Where’s Lupe been?”
“I’m not sure. I heard she got deported.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means she was sent back to Mexico because she didn’t have a green card.”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you have to do to get a green card?”
“I don’t know. That’s a really good question.”
I should have researched it before clearing the table and loading the dishwasher, because it was not a good question to ask a Hispanic girl at school the next day.
I don’t understand the rules.
Right now I am listening to Small Great Things on audible. It’s a hard listen and I hear myself in the story. I feel like Kennedy, the lawyer, who explains that she, like me, doesn’t think she sees color.
For example, if she realizes she needs to cross the street and there is a black person approaching her, she will just keep going the wrong way anyway so they don’t think she’s stereotyping or being, whatever the word is. Ruth tells her that’s just as bad, reverse racism.
One of my goals this year is to become a Certified International Property Specialist.
I need special training.
It was New Year’s Eve. I had an open house. I packed gift bags with home made cookies, goal setting tips for 2017, a list of other homes for sale in that price range and party horns.
Towards the end of the day I welcomed an American Asian woman at the front door who immediately told me she was a student, has a house for sale in Seattle, and used to live in China. I told her the same thing I told everyone else that day.
“Well let me apologize in advance for the jacked up home made fortune cookies,” not thinking a thing, I smiled. “They’re delicious, but not-so pretty.”
But then she just kept looking at me without saying anything for what seemed like the longest minute ever.
Finally, she broke the silence, “The whole time I lived in China, I never ate a fortune cookie.”
And then it occurred to me.
And I excitedly asked, “Oh my gosh! Is it possible that fortune cookies aren’t even from China? I just assumed that when you get Chinese food and there is a fortune cookie with your meal, that they originated in China. Oh my gosh! Maybe not.”
This is the part when my head tells my mouth to just stop talking. I fumbled over my words in an attempt to make it right and it all came out wrong. I started to sweat under my wireless bra. I could feel warm blood rushing to my temples as my chest tightened. She smiled sweetly.
It was entirely possible I was the only one having an awkward moment. I don’t feel like we’ve been properly trained to communicate openly and respectfully, without offense.
Cheerfully I added, “Well I’ll have to look that up! Did you see the rock garden bed out back?”
This month I’m taking a class in diversity.
I can still hear the strong and admirable voice of Dr. King in the background on a black and white television as I played in the living room. I can also still feel the sickness I felt in my stomach when I watched the tapes replayed in Memphis at the National Civil Rights Museum.
Those are not shoes I’ve ever walked in or marched in, so no, I don’t know. I’m just sorry.
The truth is, color does matter.
It matters the most in our misunderstandings.