By Ally Carey || Contributing Writer
When I was in elementary school, art class was my favorite period. I’ve always been a creative person, and the studio gave me an opportunity to delve into my passion. I found it exciting to open up a box of brand new crayons and (to unleash) their sweet smell when I lifted the lid. I loved diving into the marker bin and feeling the sticky Elmer’s glue on my fingertips. However, I loved painting the most: the way the brush-stroked across the blank construction paper, the way the wet paint crisped up when it dried, but most importantly, I loved all the colors—something my classmates and I shared in common. It seemed as though the more color that was added to your paper, the more beautiful it became. We drew red mountains, rainbow skies filled with brilliant yellow suns, pink houses, and purple stick figures. Color was what created our artwork; without it, the beautiful aesthetics seemed to disappear. While colors on our paintbrush held so much excitement in our early days, I’ve since seen another relationship with color—a relationship that simply isn’t as vibrant as the one I knew in grade school and is much more complicated.
I first met my best friend Tracy at the beginning of my sophomore year. She is incredibly brilliant. She has a smile that radiates into any room she graces and a laugh so infectious it is nearly impossible to not crack a smile while she erupts into one Her compassion for her friends and peers is astounding and rarely wavers— she also happens to be black. While I never would have considered skin color a necessary adjective to describe my friends, I have since learned that her color represents much more than just her physical appearance. Since I was little, I have tried to be as open-minded, as inclusive, and as curious about the cultural diversity that surrounds me as possible, but it wasn’t until this fall that I truly realized just how little I actually knew about being anti-racist. Early last semester, protests erupted on our campus after students wore racist and culturally appropriative Halloween costumes. When I first saw those posts, I thought “wow how disappointing, people are stupid.” But what to me felt like an irresponsible and careless decision proved to be far more harmful than I would have ever expected. It was easy for me to see this, to say it was wrong, but then continue on with my day. But those cultures and groups of individuals that those costumes were representing weren’t just disappointed, they were hurting. A lot. I got to see this first hand when I went to my class. My peers were missing, or crying, distracted, and distanced from the classroom—I can only imagine the thoughts that were spinning through their heads.
I began to recognize that these reactions were stemming from more than just this one incident: they were emblematic of the exhaustion, the pain, and the reality that no matter how hard they try, racism has once again plagued their community. I love my college campus. Whether I’m walking down the green and seeing my friends or walking into the college center and grabbing a cup of coffee before I head to the library, it is the place I feel most myself. I understand now that the feeling of safety and community is a privilege I have received because of my white skin. I will never walk into a classroom, a grocery store, or a library, and not see someone who looks like me. I assumed that my peers shared this feeling with me, but I quickly learned that my assumptions were just that; being black in white spaces is much more complex.
In my favorite book, To kill a Mockingbird, Atticus tells Scout “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Tracy gave me the opportunity to do this, as she gave me her time and I listened. Seeing your best friend grapple with such intense feelings on a day to day basis begins to hurt you, too. Just as she cares for my well-being, I equally care for hers. That month, I saw a side of my friend that I hadn’t seen before. It’s an uncomfortable feeling being white in those situations, thinking “But I am not racist! How could I be part of the problem?” But that exact thought stems from privilege and in fact IS part of the problem. I now see that while one may not be blatantly racist, that is not enough. To be passive is to side with the oppressor. It is when we actively engage with these issues that we become an ally, a listener, a supporter. When I see the protests around the country, I see my best friend Tracy, I see my peers from school, I see the same suffering, the anger, and pain, shared this fall—and my heart hurts. America is not a country of “equal opportunity.” Not when a group of individuals is routinely victimized by the institutionalized racism that has afflicted this country for more than 400 years. I am so grateful to have Tracy in my life for so many reasons other than the color of her skin, but whether she knows it or not, she has taught me more about myself, my friends, our culture, and the country we live in than I think she knows.
People often use the term “color blind” to describe a society where race does not interfere with one’s ability to equal opportunity in life. I have been contemplating this term for the past couple of days and thinking about the colors on my paintings—how they contrast one another, strengthen the canvas, and create a brilliance that only they could add. Colors complete the canvas. I began thinking about how sad a world without color would be. I want to embrace all the variations and shades and diverse pigments in our society. Much like the paintings that my classmates and I made in art class, color is what adds vibrancy and richness to our world. Just think how anemic a society would look if everything was monochrome. Color is rich with various representatives of culture and the diverse world we live in. If we could all learn to accept color, to enhance it, and to not just live amongst it but to embrace it—it surely would facilitate create a more beautiful world.
Ally Carey is a Contributing Writer. Her email is email@example.com.