One of my best friends when I was in grade school was Martha Bush. She was my first black friend. I loved spending time at her house. Her mom made me the doll I slept with made out of orange corduroy and had hair that was made from blue yarn. Though I don’t remember it, when I was an infant, my mom took me to choir practice in inner city Buffalo. My mom was the choir director and I got passed around to to be rocked and cuddled by caring women from all backgrounds. There is some science that shows even infants can recognize different faces. I was lucky enough to experience love from so many wonderful women. My parents welcomed everyone in our home, regardless of background. I am grateful for all those early experiences. They taught me to ask questions, learn about people that came from different backgrounds, and treat all people with respect.
It wasn’t until I was older that I started to realize that I had an easier path, simply because I was white. My family moved from a very diverse neighborhood to a community that was overwhelming white when I was 10 years old. For the first time that I can remember, I heard people using racist language and harassing a black boy that went to my school. I couldn’t understand why that was happening. My mom had to explain to me what racism is and why it was important to speak out. Yes, I come from an activist family.
I am grateful to have friends and colleagues that come from so many different backgrounds in my life. I continue to learn, to listen to their stories, to sometimes ask what feels like very awkward questions. I don’t always get it right. But I do understand that when I walk into a store in many parts of the world, I will be treated differently than my friends that have darker skin. I know, because of reading the research, that healthcare inequity is part of racism. There is a good chance I will get better healthcare simple because of the color of my skin. It’s not just about COVID19. Black women in the U.S. die in childbirth at much higher rates than white women, as one example. According to the World Health Organization, their odds of surviving childbirth are comparable to those of women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan. Simply put, when someone of color gets healthcare treatment, this is another place where racism exists.
If it doesn’t seem to impact us, maybe we are not paying attention in the way that we should. We need to take notice of the lessons learned from the AIDS epidemic. It was a gay disease. It was ignored. The government was slow to publicly recognize the crisis, as the disease was killing people. Had this not been labeled a “gay” disease early on, could the spread have been slowed? Could lives have been saved? We can also learn from how AIDS activists spoke out, organized, and marched. Could anyone that was around in the 1980s and aware of what was going on have known how this would impact LgBTQ+ rights in the U.S.? It still amazes me what has happened to recognize gay rights in the U.S. and makes it clear that positive change can happen. And it wasn’t just gay people marching, working for change. It was the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and friends of gay children and adults. It was people like me, who saw my friends get sick and die, and could not stay quiet.
To have a world that is healthier and more sustainable, we must all be able to see color. We need to know how the color of our own skin has impacted our lives and those of our friends, colleagues, and neighbors. I will never know what it is like to be black, to be treated differently because of having darker skin. But I can learn, listen and work for positive change. I am grateful and feel so blessed to have so many people in my life from diverse backgrounds. My life is richer because we can laugh together, learn from each other, be there for each other, and hopefully role model respect, care and recognizing the humanness of every person.
Yes, I see color. If we don’t understand that diversity impacts each of us differently, we can not have meaningful, positive inclusion. If we cannot understand that racism is not a separate issue from health and wellbeing, we aren’t serious about a healthier world. We must all be asking ourselves if we are really seeing color. The future of our world depends on it.