More Than Two Colors
When I was a kid, I moved from Freeport, Bahamas, to Virginia, United States. The winters were icy cold in my new city, and the American accent was very different from my Caribbean one. But the biggest difference was seeing so many new colors of people. In the Bahamas, almost everyone had brown skin, but in the U.S. there were “beige,” “peach,” and “paper bag-colored” people. At least, those were the words I used to describe them when talking to my mom.
It took me a while to realize that most people in the U.S. saw each other in just two colors: black and white. Since my family is mixed race and I thought my skin looked more like milk chocolate, I didn’t like being called black. As a black girl, I was less likely to read positive stories about people who looked like me. I was also more likely to be followed around in stores. When I got good grades, I was told, “You’re just trying to be white!” My first experiences with prejudice—being judged or treated meanly by people because of their assumptions about me—were because of my race. It felt like being black meant not being trustworthy or smart.
In my family and my Bahá’í community, race didn’t come with so many expectations. I was part of a small group of black, white, and Asian friends who prayed and studied the Bahá’í writings together. We learned that “the diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá). One of my favorite songs said that even with all of our different skin tones, “one heart, ruby red, beats the heart of man.”
Now I’m 30 years old, and I’ve seen this truth with my own eyes. I’ve been to Europe, Africa, and Asia and seen the beauty of so many cultures that contribute incredible things to the world. I’ve met people in every country with colorful personalities and the same desire for understanding. One of the amazing people I met is my husband, Marcin, who is from Poland.
In my marriage, I sometimes still feel the pain of racism. When law enforcement treats me differently than my husband while traveling, it makes me feel unequal. Because my experience with race is not like everyone else’s, it’s important that I share these stories with my friends and family and listen to their stories as well. Experiences with racism and prejudice are very personal, so we should try to listen to each other’s stories with an open heart.
Some people have such deep pain from facing discrimination in their lives that they have lost hope that we can all be treated equally. Some think that interracial marriages like mine just will not work. Others have spent all of their lives with one race and have too much fear to meet people from another. Sometimes it’s hard to talk with people who come from very different backgrounds. But Marcin and I agree that there is no better way to work toward uniting the races than to build a life together with love.
Throughout history, progress towards racial unity has often been through love. Once people got to know each other, their friendships grew so strong that they couldn’t stay quiet about injustice. Like Branch Rickey, a baseball pioneer who was motivated to take action when he saw a black player from his team crying after being refused a hotel room because of his race. Years later, Rickey hired Jackie Robinson as the first black athlete to play in Major League Baseball. Rickey said, “I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can sure do something about it in baseball.”
Of course, we still have a long way to go. But we can be inspired by those who have helped in this journey. We can also try our very best to make friends of all races and to speak out when we feel or see discrimination.
With our family, friends, and community, we can learn more about the diversity of the human race and grow in compassion, love, and understanding.
Unity in Action
How many of these things can you do to help build race unity in your community?
- Talk with your friends about racism you’ve seen or experienced.
- Learn a quote that inspires you to work for justice.
- Create artwork that shows the beauty of the human race.
- Invite a diverse group of friends over for dinner.
- Visit a cultural history museum. Share what you learn.
- Read about achievements of people from different races and share them.
- Say a prayer for unity.
- Consult with elders, friends, and others abut ways to achieve race unity.
- Watch videos about different cultures (such as TEDxKids).
- Interview an interracial couple about their marriage.
- Try a game from another culture.
- Write a poem about unity.
- Help at a cultural festival.
- Ask if your school can host a diversity workshop.
- Take an imaginary trip by learning all you can about another country.
For a printable version, download a PDF of this article.
Andrea Hope is a spoken word artist who has performed poetry and taught workshops in many countries around the world. She is also the author of the poetry activity book, I Am & I Can.