Her beautiful brown-skinned arm reached out from the surging crowd to grab mine. Startled, my eyes looked up into her deep brown ones as she began to stroke my arm. “Clean” she said, referring to my color of skin. Then she held up her arm and declared it dirty and began to rub it as if there was actually dirt that could be wiped away. I nearly choked in indignation and astonishment, trying my best in broken Bangla to convince her otherwise. I wanted to grab her by the shoulders, shake her and say, “I am the same as you! It’s just color pigments and you happen to have more than me and you are so gorgeous!” But in that moment there was nothing I could say or do to convince her otherwise.
Nearly two decades later, I’m still overwhelmed by the issue. Some days I want to grab the whole world by the shoulders and say, “We are the same. It’s just pigmentation!”
The gut-wrenching truth of the matter is that it is not just about pigmentation anymore. We have made it into something much, much more. I look at our beautiful world of color, the shades and depths of humanity around the world, and my heart wants to stop beating for all its beauty, and yet we have turned this beautiful medley into something ugly and hierarchical. Those of you who come from families of color or from other nations know exactly what I am talking about. I don’t need to explain it to you. You’ve felt it. You live with it. And for this I am so, so sorry.
These words are really for the rest of you who, like me, have lighter skin. We think we live in a nation of equality, with liberty and justice for all. Yet we have no idea how hard it is to be in this nation as a person of color or as an immigrant.
The Emancipation Proclamation failed to change the underlying heart attitude of our nation. Some of us still see ourselves as a white nation. Some of us still think that this is our land. That our way of doing things is the normal way. And anything “other” makes us afraid.
We are not a white nation. This is not our land. We stole this land from those who were here before us, brutally driving them into tiny little pieces of this wide beautiful land while we control the rest of it.
I remember one 4th of July, sitting with family in a park that was full of all shades of beautiful color, where white was the minority. Watching the fireworks dance under a clear Texas sky, I realized that this is who we are, a nation of immigrants. At what point do we have the moral right to say, “This is mine. No more of you can come here now.”
What nation has collapsed because it was generous? Show me a nation that has fallen apart because it has sheltered the poor and the broken.
Instead, we have chosen to narrow our gates and send our soldiers running to the “aid” of other countries to stop the terror in them, while we perpetuate a quiet terror in our own country every day.
We are not the savior. People of my color (or lack of color), for centuries have tried to dictate to the rest of the world how to live. Not only that, we currently use the rest of the world to slave away for us so that we can enjoy more stuff, for less money. But what is the true cost?
There is a growing awareness of modern day slavery, racial issues and much more, but unless we level the playing field of our hearts, not much will change. Like that arm of a different color reaching out for mine – all because decades before white people had come into her land and taken over, and those with light skin enjoyed privileges the rest did not – it’s time for us to reach out our arms to peoples of different colors. It’s time to ask them what it has been like. The time for pretending to be the world’s hero is over. We need to be quiet and listen to people’s stories. Whether they have been here for decades because our forefathers enslaved their forefathers, or they are newly arrived to escape horrors beyond our imagination, it is time for us to open our doors and our hearts. To be the ones who serve. To be the ones who listen. To be the ones who weep.