Brown and Beige

Some tribes in Sudan have skin the color of deep night.  Some Asians and Scandinavians have skin the color of pure porcelain.  But the vast majority of humans are wrapped in an epidermis that runs an amazing gamut of hues from brown to beige.

We have no choice in the matter of our color. It is our inheritance, no more alterable, except for the travesty of skin bleaching, than our ancestral lines, all of which trace back to the first humans in Africa.

Our cultures enforce attitudes about skin color. In her extraordinary book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson argues convincingly that this identifier is arbitrary. Nonetheless, It defines whether our lives are privileged or marginalized.

One identifier transcends – or could transcend – these limits.  Throughout history, most women have been relegated to “second class” status. In our deepest selves, we share doubts and fears about our value and adequacy, despite all the evidence of women’s innate and unique power. Most of us share some of the traumas of rape, domestic violence, ill treatment at the hands of health providers, barriers of abortion, and disparities of pay. We know the prevalence and persistence of these traumas across all female-dom. Our dark side – competitiveness  – has been no small part of keeping us stuck. Women of all colors have much more to gain as allies, but too often that seems a bridge too far.

In  their book From Here to Equality, Kirsten Mullen and William (Sandy )Darity Jr. set forth in harrowing detail all the missed opportunities to define and instill racial equality in America, particularly after the Civil War. The endless predations arising from white supremacist thinking are unforgiveable, and they persist.

We’ve made glacial progress in refuting American’s original sin of slavery. Action for reparations – achieving acknowledgement, redress, and closure – is the only way we can salvage a sane society.

In my life, as a beige woman, I find myself standing back as I watch the discovery and consolidation of power among my brown sisters. It’s damn well time. Their rejection of alliances is, however, often grieves me.

I’m committed to finding my place in achieving women’s ascendance, most particularly, for women of color. A quote from a forgotten source is one touchstone:  “Hate your oppressors and you’ll be forever enslaved by your memories.” But what is more  difficult: forgiving or forgetting?

Public and Private Reparations

Many more of us than ever before are beginning to imagine ways out of the dismal swamp of racism in our cultures –  in the US and around the world.

Cruelty no one could deny shoved us out of complacency. ‘The Spark’ had to be brutal and captured on video.

Most of us white folks have been uneasily blind and guiltily defensive about the centuries of punishments meted out to blacks in America.  Some of us will find redemption in activism for racial justice, each committing to action that fits, with ‘No Whining’ please.

Reparations seem an especially significant action.  A vast debt is long overdue. America has denied generations of black families access to the capital through enslavement and discrimination. All our systems were designed and aligned for that to happen. Changing the hard-wiring requires a lot of small and large efforts over a long period of time.

I began my private effort at reparations with this ever-growing understanding:   

Women of color, especially those living in poverty, need access to resources to heal from the traumas of their lives. It takes a long as it takes.

The healing process point to long-deferred dreams and the skills needed to achieve them.

Deploying those skills makes women the best change agents a community is likely to have.

I’ve leveraged my white privilege to deliver those resources in spaces women have found safe and welcoming. Those places are Women’s Centers.

Women’s Centers took wing when I understood how this approach could serve refugee women, women displaced from their homes by wars, and ultimately all women systematically denied basic human rights.

Capital to meet the needs of even a small portion of this vast population of women has been notably  difficult to access.  I get it that (R)Evolutionary ideas can take awhile to catch the tow-rope of capital commitments, but it’s time now to hurry up the slope.

Meanwhile, our societal reparations plan deserves sorting out with all possible dispatch. As was dramatically illuminated with COVID, our federal government finds money when circumstances are dire.  A massive 400-year-old debt certainly qualifies.

The effort to prepare a reparations package cannot take years, certainly not the more than fifty years that the Equal Rights Amendment has languished without ratification. The struggle for black lives to matter  – socially, economically, politically, educationally, in health care, banking, the art, the trades – is bound up with the struggle for women’s lives to matter. Those changes will be just a wrenching and breathtaking and compelling.

No question that the best ideas and energy should catch momentum now.  It took centuries to construct the evil empire; it will take day after day of healing and safety and breakthroughs for all of us find our way home to each other.