- the lightness or darkness of a color
Brown Paper Bag Test– Slave owners held brown paper bags to the skin of a slave. Those as light or lighter than the bag would be allowed to work in the house.Those of a darker skin hue were sent to the fields. These were two very different life sentences, life circumstances and life expectancies. The residual expectations of beauty from the brown paper bag test still affect society today.
Colorism is a reflection of unjust expectations, within ones own race, of acceptable standards of worth and beauty based on lightness or darkness of skin tone.
Its like starving for acceptance and being given a beautiful inedible piece of cake.
• How does colorism affect our capacity to understand, love and accept our multi-ethnic families, villages and ourselves?
• Can we heal the misunderstandings of the beauty of value and the value of beauty?
For me, ethnicity awareness brought an awakening. The challenge of racism isn’t one I chose. It chose me.
On August 20, 1980, Joseph Paul Franklin, a racist serial killer was trying to start a race war across America. He murdered Ted Fields and David Martin, who were African American. I was hit with bullet fragments as we jogged from Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was 15 years old at the time. I grew up in Utah. But this wasn’t my first or last taste of racism.
When I fill out a census report I never feel like I choose the right description. White not Hispanic, isn’t true for me. Hispanic doesn’t feel right either. I am multi-ethnic. I come from a long line of open-minded lovers. Many were lost in their need to be as worthy as the white people in their world. Some of my beautiful Mexican ancestors bleached their skin. My mother remembers hearing her Mexican grandmother tell her, ” We may be dark but we are just as good as the Okies.” She believed there was a rating system of worth and importance. She told her “we are better than white trash.”
If she really believed this, how did she feel about herself and her grandchildren who carried the less “favorable” traits of dark hues and ethnic physical characteristics or the children whose skin was lighter?
My ethnicity is tied to the culture of my sphere of influence; my friends and my family as well as their friends and families. Our lives touch each other to shape our experiences. It is a ripple effect.
At times I’ve been told I look like an exotic white woman but my ethnicity is more connected to the African American and the Hispanic culture. My father had blonde hair and grey eyes, my mother is first generation Mexican American, with dark hair and eyes.
Growing up in Utah, my family was often ostracized and called “spic”, “wetback”, half breed” by our white Mormon neighbors whose parents didn’t allow them to play with us. To them we had no worth, no redeeming value.
“Tell Me Who You’re With & I’ll Tell You What Your Worth”.
Being a fair skinned, bright, shy, obedient, quiet and introverted child, I seemed invisible as I observed the grown ups around me. I quietly fell through the cracks and listened. I heard their unguarded conversations (as children often do) and learned about the toxic give and take of racism.
Those conversations treated me to the double-edged sword of white privilege at a distance. I still marvel at the poisonous mind-sets or sayings that imprison those who just want to fit in, to be valued and belong, to be seen as a person.
I believe in the law of three fold. You get what you give, times three. That’s why I don’t want to fight prejudice or declare war on racism or anything that offends or scares me. My intention is to heal racism with art and uncomfortable conversations. Healing begins within, exploring self imposed biases and prejudices. Everything touches everything.
My art is a hopeful prayer for the voiceless. It is an invitation into the void of uncomfortable conversations where the healing begins.
STATEMENT ABOUT MY ARTIST MENTOR EXPERIENCE
I think the women at Art Access are really fairy godmother’s who grant wishes for art waiting to be born.
I’ll always be grateful Art Access granted my wish and gave me the opportunity to work with such a talented and giving artist, Liberty Blake. She’s is teaching me the fundamental, structural and artistic process of collage art. Her generosity of time and wisdom has been priceless.
The evolution of this exhibit grew from exquisite conversations of vulnerability with Liberty. Her professional and personal advice allowed me to give a voice to the family secrets of colorism.
I look forward to working with Liberty in the future. This has been a challenging beautiful experience I will carry forward in my artistic career.
© Terry Jackson-Mitchell and http://www.idwellindreams.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terry Jackson -Mitchell and http://www.idwellindreams.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
I painted a chrome statue of Buddha. It sits center stage in my home, keeping me mindful of being present & grateful for all the blessings in my life.
Spring semester 2013, I was asked to create paintings without using any black or white to mix the colors for paint.
I couldn’t help but think, “What would my life be like without black or white’s influence?” I often feel that I walk between the space of race.
I thought of all the races that are part of my DNA. I come from a long line of open-minded lovers, maybe some weren’t given a choice. Many ancestors were on opposite sides of race wars; French, Mexican, German, African American, Native American, Middle Eastern, English, Irish, Scottish, slaves & slave owners.
I thought of the imprint of pain & misunderstanding because of the black & white mentality that cripples my heart when I feel like I don’t fit in.
I wondered if I could heal my ancestor’s pain within me.
I visualized them all, speaking of their lives & their journeys. I wanted to hear them all. I wanted to heal them all. I saw them making peace with each other in another realm where no black or white was allowed, just the pure colors of their essence. They were my inspiration for these paintings.
I see them all dancing within me.
I see them in the face my grandchildren.
Changing the world begins within…. outside of black & white.
Eloquent explanation of white privilege from a white man. Macklemore is one of my favorites. Healing racism begins with facing this important truth.
I have been home 9 days and I still wake up and wish I was l in Moab. I can’t believe how many wonderfully weird this 3 days turned out and every day since. For 6 months before I was aware of this event, I dreamed of red cliffs and sand.
I was guided to consider the Women’s Congress For Future Generations, WCFFG, by a facebook friend who has been one of my guides and helpers from a distance since I was 27 years old.
Below is the copied info from the website and reason I chose to attend the Womens Congress For Future Generations, http://www.wcffg.org/
Why have a Women’s Congress for Future Generations?
The environmental problems facing Earth challenge our concepts of time and how we think about future generations. Most laws are appropriate for 25 years or less, essentially one generation. But climate change, mountain top removal, fracking, mining and drilling, and species extinction are no longer our legacy to the 7th generation but to the 10,000th generation and beyond. Radioactive waste sites, for example, are hazardous for 250,000 years or longer, essentially 10,000 generations.
Over the past year, women of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds have been quietly working on these issues. Conversations have been held in the kitchens of long time environmental activists. They have been held on the frontlines of civil disobedience by young activists resisting fracking, nuclear power, and mountain top removal. They have been held in the halls of academia, in the dream world, and in political arenas. It is time for a larger conversation and to transform conversation into action on behalf of the future. It is time for women to speak from our authority as the first environment for future generations. It is time to rise up and claim this authority so we can sing lullabies, not requiems, to future generations.
Who we are
We are a group of women who have come together to plan this Congress and dream. Our central organizing team and affinity support groups include writers, dreamers, public speakers, organizers, lawyers, academics, grandmothers, mothers, sisters, filmmakers, and artists. All are committed to issues of women, health, justice, and the environment. Our elder circle includes luminaries such as Joanna Macy and Mona Polacca, one of the thirteen Indigenous grandmothers. Our fiscal agent is the Science & Environmental Health Network.
Why hold this in Moab Utah?
We have chosen Moab because this beautiful land, the Colorado River, and ancient sacred sites are threatened with fracking and a proposed nuclear power plant. We believe our presence in Moab can stop these threats to our common, treasured heritage. In addition, we had dreamers who dreamed that Moab called us to hold it there.
What are the goals of the Congress?
- To convene and create together the future we desire.
- To craft a living Declaration of the Rights of Future Generations and the Responsibilities of Present Generations through word, art, song, and performance.
- To transform public dialogue about our collective future.
- To begin an inquiry about what tools and skills an emerging civil right movements for future generations might need to move forward.
- To define how women can honor, embody and translate the sacred feminine spirit into the realm of direct political and social action.
- To empower women’s voices and leadership to address the challenges before us.
- To embrace all women, and to address barriers that might otherwise diminish the fullest and most diverse gathering of women.
- To carry forward this work in ways that draw strength and wisdom from parallel and kindred gatherings, and from an ever-widening circle of women.
Being short on funds, I sent in an application for a scholarship to attend the WCFFG in Moab. I received the scholarship and was given food, workshops and a camping ground to stay in. We arrived on Thursday night and slept beneath the most beautiful iconic red rock cliffs next to the Colorado River.
The next morning I checked in, wearing my granny’s charm bracelet with my sisters and my charms she had with our name and birthdays. I have been dreaming of my ancestors in vivid beautiful colors. Colorful symbolism and creative energy offers answers and questions that speak to healing the trauma from the past and concern for the future of my children and grandchildren.
The first workshop was the Theater of Oppression. It was an exercise that had 6 groups of people who created a living sculpture or scene of oppression. We chose the one we wished to explore further. This scene was one of a young teen mother who had a father with his arms crossed and his back to her, a mother with a worried look on her face and her hands on her daughters shoulders, a woman pointing a finger in accusatory judgement and two people that hoped to adopt her baby. As the scene progressed any one could say stop and and take over the role of someone in the play. They could change the direction by offering a different point of view or way of interacting. I couldn’t believe no one asked the woman playing the pregnant teen, what she wanted to do with her baby. NOT ONCE!
At one point an elderly man and woman were jumping in and trying to interact but they weren’t being respectful to each other and were quickly reminded to be civil. Eventually two women said they would be part of the community to help raise the baby and support the mother. Which seemed like a good idea at that moment.
Out of nowhere, a woman in her 60’s was shouting and crying that there is no community to help single teenage mothers. She spoke of her pregnancy and how she was abandoned and left to figure it out on her own as a college student. Everyone was stunned and shocked to the point of not knowing what to do or say. Then another woman in her 50’s stood up and spoke of a pregnancy at the age of 17 years old. She was forced to marry the 15 year old father of her baby. She said her mother made all the dresses for the wedding and cried with every stitch sewed.
A woman in her 30’s came forward crying. She said that she was pregnant at the age of 15 and her mother supported her decision to have an abortion and now she lives happily without having any children. She said she was grateful for the opportunity to have a choice in her future and she chose to not have children.
Initially, I thought this doesn’t apply to me, thank goodness. But I learned by speaking to others that this story applied to all women. My mother was 17 and married when she had me. She married at 16 and a year later gave birth to me. My daughter was a teen mother at 18. I was astounded at the level of judgment, shame and exclusion directed at her and me for raising her “that way”.
Over the course of the next few days I went to each woman who spoke and thanked them for sharing their story. I learned more details of their story that all seemed to be very familiar and common in the themes of the life of a woman in this world. The things that stood out most to me where the facts that females are directed through shame, fear, loss and judgment as soon as they can communicate. We are guided through incredibly challenging circumstances by those 4 oppressive energies. Often we do it to other women. But sometimes we don’t realize, while we are silenced into continuing the cycle of oppression, we do it to ourselves.
After lunch we each chose a group of elements or living beings where we felt an affinity. I had to chose within seconds of learning where everyone was going. So I chose the air animal group. I met with 8 other women and we each chose an animal or insect and use 3 descriptions of what them. I had originally wanted to select honey bee, then dragonfly, then owl, then bat. But every time someone stood up to choose what they had in mind, my selection would be taken. Finally, my turn came. I chose a hawk with the description of hawk attributes; seeing from above, protection of chicks, independent. We discussed what they would say if they could speak, what they needed us to know and our responsibilities to them. We created a proclamation and bill of rights for them.
At the end of the workshop each group presented these well considered ideas and said the Congress was charged with creating a legal document to present to our political leaders that would be a step towards addressing the challenges faced by our planet and her children.
That night I met a teacher of one of the workshops when we found that she was sharing our campsite. We were too exhausted to talk and turned in early. She left the next morning at first light.
The following morning we were given several choices for the next 2 days of workshops. It was hard to choose. They were all so fascinating to consider. While we were deciding which workshops to choose, we heard a celebration outside the building. We all went outside and watched as the LGBT marched in solidarity for equal rights. We cheered them on and as the flag is paraded in front of us, I notice that one of the several people holding up the flag is my nephew. I called to him and he and I embraced. Many of the parade members hugged the women from the congress. It was a beautiful moment.
After we went back in the building, I chose a workshop that was led by one of the women in the air animal group. It was also selected by 2 other women which made it easier to interact and connect. This workshop was about our maternal grandmothers birth and the environment where they were born and grew up. How environmental factors affected her life and her daughters and mine.
The leader of the workshop came from a grandmother who was VERY financially privileged her whole life. She was born in San Francisco at the time of the gold rush. Her water was exposed to mercury flushed into main water sources. It used to filter the gold from impurities. She slept in a beautiful bassinet that had been passed down to all her children and grandchildren. It was painted with lead based paint. She had the finest of everything but those things were toxic and the illnesses related to those toxins were passed down to her descendants.
I didn’t want to discuss my mothers mother. We never got along and I didn’t know much about her birth and environment except that she was poor and lived on the land. Which sounds better than drinking mercury laced with toxins. In our sharing I realized that the environmental factors were more complex than the water, food and air. While my grandmother was most likely not exposed to those toxins, she was exposed to different toxins; racism, pedophiles and a life of things she couldn’t do because of her lack of education. Which ironically was passed down to all of her descendants.
All of the women, but me, were born through a mother who was drugged and bore her children through a cesarean section or forceps. If delivering in a hospital there was a procedure to follow; make a delivery appointment that was convenient to the doctor’s schedule, drug the mother, tie her arms down with lambs wool covered straps (they didn’t want to upset the HUSBANDS by showing bruises on the women) and they would force forceps inside her and pull the baby out or cut it out of her. That sounded pretty painful, unnatural and violent for the mother and child. As though, the schedules and feelings of the men, doctor or husband, were more important than the mother or child. I walked away grateful my family didn’t have the money to have babies in hospitals back then. Maybe that is why there is an abundance of good health and long lives in our family.
Later, we listened and voted on the draft of the language for the bill of rights and proclamations for the elements and animals represented. We each had the opportunity to critique it and vote on how we wanted it to be reflected in the bill.
That evening, under a full moon we all gathered at the bridge close to our campsite. We joined in prayer for the healing of our polluted waters while two people played the drums on huge Japanese Taiko drums. As the prayer was finished, someone read a piece by Alice Walker (one of my favorite writers of all time. She published a piece of work that was very similar to our bill, within minutes of the end of our prayer.
It was all very humbling an heart expanding.
Susan and I both chose a hike that was actually in the area of our campsite. Neither of us knew it, but we were camping on sacred grounds. We explored the feminine rock art symbols of Basketmaker society 2000-3000 years ago. To see this sacred symbolic artwork see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxAtWbpK9oo
At one point, we stared at the vast canyon as women chanted and sang a beautiful Native American song about women awakening to their new day. No one was left without a tear. It was inspiring beyond words. I felt the presences of all my grandmothers. Even those from hundreds of years ago. I had dreams of messages from them.
That night when I arrived at home, I stood in the shower and thought about the experience. I heard a voice of a young woman. I could see her when I closed my eyes. She said, “You think your survivors guilt for your sisters is because of YOUR past. But you don’t understand that also came from me.” I said, ” who are you and why would it affect me?” She said,”I am your grandmother. My sister and I were kidnapped by Indians when I was a young girl. I escaped without my sister. We were never reunited.” Then she turned as if looking behind her and said, “You’ll get your turn! It’s my turn now!”. “You forgave your maternal grandmother. Can you forgive me?” Then she was gone.
I was shaking with the thought of trauma, survivors guilt, rape and kidnapping in our lineage. I called my aunt and asked if we had a grandmother kidnapped by Indians. She said that we did. She met her when she was a child. This grandmother was cruel and vicious. She was abusive to everyone including her handicapped son. When she died at the age of 104, my great grandfather refused to attend the funeral.
The next morning, I was staring at the window deep in meditative thoughts of healing my sisters and myself. Out of the blue I see what appeared to be young girl running to my back door. She was see through. Like a ghost. Then it looked like she hit the door, BANG!, and ran away as she quickly became invisible from her feet to her head. I ran and opened the door. Ran outside and there was a HAWK, my totem air animal, flopping on the grass in the back yard. Her feathers were strewn all over my porch. She flew away as soon as I got close to her. I live in the CITY. In my 48 years of life, I haven’t ever seen one in my yard. EVER.
I went to my class a few minutes later. Somehow I chatted with a young woman I haven’t ever spoken to before. We started talking about the white women who were kidnapped by the Comanche Indians. She turned white and said, “I am reading about that very thing right now.” I was stunned again. When we saw each other again she brought the book for me to read. I opened it and randomly read about Daniel Boone’s granddaughter who was kidnapped. Then I remembered that Daniel Boone is one of my ancestors.
Every day one beautiful new piece of insight comes to me from this experience. I believe it is divine grace that I was allowed to be a part of this journey. I want to carry it forward in my village and help further the healing in myself, my family and my fellow living beings. This is just the beginning.