Black and White isn’t always Gray
Colors have always been interesting to me, and I have always had a knack of relating to each emotionally. My favorite colors are green and red. Green is peaceful, and red is growth, a blossoming of sorts.
As a child, I remember the white pasty colored duplex house I lived in. A color that blended with the snow covered streets in the winter. An older white house that sat in the middle of a multiracial neighborhood, at the end of a gray alley entry. My neighborhood and my neighbors were colorful; a young, newly married interracial couple to the left, an elderly white widow to the right, and a middle-class black family directly across the street.
My elderly neighbor had recently lost her husband, and until recently, had greeted everyone with a nod and smile daily. Her absence was very noticeable when she no longer sat on her porch. Her warmness faded after her husband of sixty-plus years died.
A tall white man and a slender dark-skinned woman, a newly married interracial couple, had recently moved into the house next to ours, across the alley. This colorful couple announced the birth of their first born, a son, with blue banners hung across their porch for many months.
Tony, a well-groomed young man who wore a neatly trimmed afro, lived across the street with his parents and a much younger brother. Tony was a lanky boy who always wore a bright smile. Tony and I were in the same kindergarten class and we walked to school together every day.
My walk to and from school was a joyous occasion and I anxiously left my house every morning to sustain this walk to school, even during the cold gray winter months, until the dark gloomy day my dad told me I couldn’t walk with that “black boy” any more.
“I ain’t gonna watch you walkin’ with that Negro boy no more, and don’t you let me see you walkin’ with him no more.” His demand was paired with a strap that slapped my backside multiple times that evening, a pairing with black and blue reminders. Sadly, colors were intertwined with my introduction to ignorance as well. Tony never crossed the street to walk with me to school again.
After several long weeks of walking to and from school alone, I asked my friend to meet me on the corner after school, out of eyesight of our homes. And again, we began our walks to and from school together, but parted daily at the red stop sign on the corner.
Before the age of six, Tony, the black boy, became my knight-in-shining armor, my hero, for a total of six city blocks to and from elementary school for three years.
Racial compositions are complex and I know these complexities all too well. For twenty years I singled-parented two beautiful biracial children. In our home and in their world we formed a colorful integration. My children did not grow-up with the same racial segregation I was forced to experience. They rarely endured racism and their dissimilarities were limited to cultural differences, financial statuses, and name brand clothing divergences.
Since the age of five I have been able to pair my emotions with colors. My elderly neighbor was yellow to me, a large bright glowing sun who shared her rays of warmth and joy with others. This sweet lady encouraged Tony and I to always look out for each other, to love one another. She enriched our lives and she understood long before laws allowed it, that color had nothing to do with love. She knew that my love, my admiration, my need for Tony and his acceptance was colorless.
Before becoming a parent, I knew I would never allow my children to use racial terms or to refer to others by colors. My babies learned these two descriptions rarely impacted their stories. My babies grew up in a world that was colorblind, bright and cheery, at least at home, or so I thought.
It was at the age of six that my son shared his concerns about color. After the recent birth of his sister, and while lying in my arms on my bed, my son confessed a sorrow for me. When I asked why he passionately stated, “You are the only peach person in our family, mommy, so I feel bad that you are not brown like sister and me and daddy.” He followed his statement with an innocent, inquisitive question, “Does this make you feel sad?”
“No,” I responded, “not at all.” Then I posed my own question to my little brown boy, “What color is water?” He was stumped. “God is the color of water,” I told him.
My son never forgot this conversation, and neither did I. The night before he left for college I gave him a gift, a 1995 autobiographical written by James McBride titled The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother. It was after reading this autobiographical that my son learned the same expression I shared with him was defined and clarified in this autobiography.
As an adult, my son had this quote tattooed on his shoulder, his left shoulder, to forever store these words near his heart, “God is the color of water.”
Forty-five years later and I still think of my childhood friend, my knight-in-shining armor, and my life-long hero. And, I still believe that God and love are the color of water, colorless.