That Race Thing

Recently I attended an all day seminar at work regarding race and racism. That’s one of the many beautiful things about living on the left coast. I doubt it would even occur to my former employers in Florida to allow us to have such training, let alone make it an annual event.

I learned much that day. For instance, on a scientific level, race doesn’t even exist. If you look at our DNA, only one out of every thousand nucleotides is different, from human to human. In fact, Penguins and fruit flies have more genetic differences within their own species than we humans do. (I didn’t learn this in the training, but I’ve read somewhere that our DNA is has 40 percent in common with that of a banana! Think about that the next time you eat a banana…)

The trainers showed us a fascinating video in which they did an experiment with a high school class. They sequenced a portion of each student’s DNA. Before the results came back, they were asked who they assumed they had the most genetic similarities to. Naturally, the African Americans assumed they would have more in common with each other, and the Whites gravitated toward the Whites, the Asians with the Asians, the Hispanics with the Hispanics, and so on. But here’s the interesting thing. That turned out not to be true at all. The commonalities and disparities were actually amazingly random.

The skin color thing is a function of the sun. Humans in more overcast climes developed lighter skin over time so that they could absorb every ounce of vitamin D that they could. Otherwise they would not have survived to pass on their genes. It’s just a melanin thing, as simple as that.

Race is something constructed by society to further political and economic goals. Thomas Jefferson, the same guy who wrote that all men are created equal, also wrote, in Notes on the State of Virginia, that “Blacks are inferior to whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” That was, in essence, his way of justifying his ownership of 225 slaves. But there is no scientific evidence of these inferiorities whatsoever. The only reason blacks became slaves in our society was that the white indentured servants who used to do our scut work before slavery could too easily run away and blend in with the general population. Whereas if your skin was a different color, you had nowhere to hide. Slavery was a much more sustainable outrage than indentured servitude.

We often talk about America being a melting pot. I was taught to believe that that meant we are diverse, and we’ve all blended together to become Americans. I used to be so proud of that! But actually, the melting pot concept was more about the desire for all Americans to be able to assimilate and be exactly the same. It was all about only allowing white Christians to sit at the table. I’m repulsed by how twisted I got this. I’d much rather that we be a hardy stew.

One last thought for those of you who still think others are inferior because they have not reached your level of success. It’s easy for us W.A.S.P.s to forget that everyone else has to start 30 yards deep in their own end zone. They don’t have the leg-up that we were born with and never earned. This picture is one of the hand outs from the training. Print it out. Mark off all the privileges you have. Then mark off any additional ones you feel you don’t have that people will assume you have. (For example, I’m not a Christian, but people would think that I was.)

Once you’ve marked off all that privilege, think about who has to be oppressed for you to have each one. It’s a sobering realization. Now, tell me again how all men are created equal?

IMG_3057

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Nature Doesn’t Clash

I have a friend who is an artist, and when choosing his color palette for any given creation, he looks to nature for inspiration. He’ll take a leaf or a flower petal, for example, and put it under a microscope, and then use the colors he sees there. I think that’s a brilliant idea.

If you want the ultimate arbiter of good taste, nature is it. First of all, it’s been around a heck of a lot longer than we have. It knows how to play the game. It doesn’t like short-term trends. I can’t think of even one example of a natural thing that irritates my sensibilities. I definitely can’t say that about humans on an average day. (Nature wouldn’t be caught dead in sandals with knee socks.)

Nature also doesn’t wage war, shut down the government for selfish reasons, or pollute itself in the name of greed. It sees no need for firearms. If anyone were to support health care for all, it would be nature.

While nature can seem arbitrarily cruel, it definitely looks at the big picture and the long term. These are qualities that modern man seems to lack, to our everlasting peril. The more we ignore nature’s warnings, the more we will suffer. Nature is patient. Nature will win. The question is, will we be around to see it?

Painted Hills Oregon
Painted Hills, Oregon

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Color Me Surprised

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia that I recently picked up from God knows where: The English language didn’t have a word for the color orange until the 1540’s. That’s about the time when the fruit started becoming available to Europeans. That fascinates me. And it also answers a question that I’ve had for decades. Why are redheads called redheads when their hair is so obviously orange? It must be because the hair color predates the word.

This also reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend who used to live in Japan. Apparently they see blue and green differently than we do. They describe the traffic light that indicates “go” as blue.

And I’ve often noticed a gender distinction in color perception. Guys invariably describe my hair as black when it’s clear to every female I speak to that it’s brown. I can even stand beside an Asian with black hair, and guys still can’t seem to see the difference. (Soon it won’t be an issue, as I’m rapidly going grey.)

I’ve bumped into this problem with men in all areas of the color spectrum, frankly. I used to think this was pure laziness or disinterest, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a genuine difference in color concepts or perception.

All these thoughts sent me scurrying off to what I like to call the font of all human knowledge: Wikipedia. In an article entitled “Distinction of blue and green in various languages” I learned a lot of interesting things. For example, many languages have one word for both blue and green, and you just have to sort it out by context. These include Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tswana and Mayan languages. In Pashto it’s one word, and they’ll then ask, “Green like the sky or green like plants?”

Some cultures don’t distinguish between blue and black. In various cultures, dark skinned people are described as green, blue, black or dusky. In Serbo-Croatian, blonde hair is called blue.

Some languages consider various shades, hues and intensities to be distinct colors, while others consider them a variation on one color. Some simply have suffixes or prefixes to add to color words to make them “light blue” or “dark red”. Interestingly, quite a few cultures distinguish turquoise and teal from other blues.

I like how the color problem is solved in Swahili. It seems they don’t have color words. When they want to describe a color, they do just that. “That shirt is the color of grass.” “Your eyes are the color of the sky.” Every conversation must sound like poetry.

Another interesting Wikipedia article was about the book Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. The authors seem to distinguish the level of a culture by the number of basic color terms it possesses. All cultures distinguish between black and white. Then, as they become more sophisticated, they apparently follow the same order the world over. They’ll add red, then either green or yellow, then both green and yellow, then blue, then brown, then purple, pink, orange or grey. English is supposedly the most sophisticated, with eleven basic color terms.

Points to ponder:

  • If we as a species can’t even agree on the way to look at or describe color, is there any hope for universal understanding?
  • How can any book, let alone the Bible, be taken literally when it’s been filtered through so many languages and cultures that see the world in fundamentally different ways?
  • How can we ever know if the blue I see is the same as the blue you see?

Fractal Collage--Braid water

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What Do My Dogs See?

I was sitting here cuddled up with my dogs, riding out a torrential downpour, and I remembered hearing a vet say on the radio that dogs aren’t completely color blind after all. She said they are blue-yellow color blind, but not red-green color blind.

My apologies in advance to anyone out there who is color blind, because this will make even less sense to them than it does to me. Because I’m confused. Every time I think I get this, it seems to slip away again.

I always thought that if they were blue-yellow color blind they could see the green grass and the red apples in the bowl on my counter just as I did, and that Christmas must look just as Christmassy to them as it does to me. That made me happy.

But with time to kill as the rain came down, I started wondering how the world really does look to them. Via Google, I discovered that Blue-Yellow color blindness is called Tritanopia. That led me to a website called Colblindor.

There I learned that with Tritanopia, the color spectrum looks like this.

 tritanopia-color-spectrum

So wait, what? It’s called Blue-Yellow Color Blindness, but they’re seeing a lot of blue and no green? Hmmm. Okay. So no wonder they prefer their red toys.

But then I found another page on their website entitled “Can Dogs See Colors?” And it says, basically, that the question is controversial, but they conclude that dogs are in fact green blind, which is called Deuteranopia. If that’s the case, then what they see is this.

deuteranopia-color-spectrum

So much for the red toy theory. I guess they just like what they like. And that’s fine with me. I love them regardless.

The fact is, I still can’t wrap my brain around what my dogs see. I can’t imagine how I look to them. Heaven knows they see me at my worst. And as far as what they think about what they see? Forget it.

Changing My Favorite Color

When I was little, if you asked me to choose a favorite color I would have said purple without hesitation. Purple, purple, purple. Everything around me had to be purple if possible. I didn’t care if it was a pastel or a dark rich shade, as long as it was purple.

Then, sometime around age 10, I began to get a more refined sense of color, and realized I didn’t really like just any purple. No. Lavender was my color, and that has been the case until very recently. A female who likes lavender. How cliché.

But in the past year I have been going through some changes that have caused me to get to know myself on a much deeper level, and all of a sudden a pale washed out lavender isn’t for me. No. I am a lilac woman. I think I have been all along. I just didn’t have the courage to own it.

But I suspect my life is about to be flipped upside down, and frankly, I’d welcome that. Things haven’t been ideal of late. So I started to cast about for ways to jump start some changes.

I began thinking about color. What if your color choice is based on your personality? But which comes first? Does your personality dictate your color choice, or does color influence who you are? I do notice that certain colors bring out certain feelings in me.

Recently I got a new laptop and had a choice of colors. I could have chosen purple, but I chose red. For some reason I really had to have red. And that surprised me because I’ve never liked red. I don’t wear red, and it’s not a big part of my life. Red actually makes me uncomfortable. It’s way too “out there” for quiet little me.

And I’ve been noticing yellow a lot recently. Yellow makes me smile. I think I need more yellow in my life. Again, this is a color I’ve always avoided. Not only because I look jaundiced when I wear it, but also because it’s a bit too perky, a bit too upbeat. Ironically I just realized it’s exactly opposite purple on the color wheel, too. Interesting.

In the process of writing this entry, I came across this website: http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com and it talks about the various personality traits that are associated with certain colors. Sure enough, the description for purple fits me to a T. It’s actually kind of eerie. All but two comments about purple people, for better or for worse, match me perfectly.

The website also mentions some other interesting theories. It says:

“If you have changed your personality color, or favorite color, try to identify the circumstances surrounding your life at that time as your new favorite will reflect qualities you need to attract into your life to help you deal with those circumstances.”

“The colors you dislike can tell you a lot about yourself as well, often reflecting your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Your most disliked color will relate to areas in your life that need to be given attention or past hurts that need to be healed. It is a good idea to try to incorporate a small amount of your disliked colors into your life by using them in clothing or underwear or in your home, to help balance your energies. Rejecting whole colors can create imbalances in your life.”

So next I looked at their descriptions of yellow and red, to find out what I need from them.

From yellow I need enthusiasm for life, confidence and optimism. It also brings clear thinking and quick decision making. Being drawn to yellow means I have a deep need for logical order. Amen to that. My dislike of yellow up to this point means that I’ve been unable to cope with change, and am not impulsive or spontaneous. Again, right on target.

Red is the color of extroversion and optimism. I could use both qualities. If I’m drawn to red right now it means I have a need for fulfillment and satisfaction and I want to experience life through the five senses. Yes! Yes! Yes! My aversion to it up to now means that I’ve been under stress and couldn’t cope with the excitement and high energy that red generates. It also means I find anger a difficult emotion to handle. God, yes.

It also says that if you dislike red, “You may want more excitement, energy and passion in your life but are afraid, for some reason, or lack the self-confidence, to get involved and open yourself to the possibilities red can bring to you.” And “You may have suffered rejection or defeat at an early age and don’t believe you can ever win.” Well, holy crap.

Okay, that’s it. I’m bringing more red and yellow into my life. Yes, I’m sure I’ll always be inherently lilac, but what would it hurt if I added a little contrast to my world?

Pillow Fight at Nathan Philips Square in Toronto. May 12, 2007.

[Image credit: http://wvs.topleftpixel.com/07/07/28/ ]

I Heart October

Ah, the first brisk chill in the air that heralds the end of the oppressive heat of September! Oktoberfest. The riot of color that makes one fall in love with the trees all over again. Apple cider. The chance to break out a completely different part of my wardrobe. Corn mazes. The renewed energy of dogs. Fires in the fireplace. Change! October is my favorite month.

Too bad I live in Florida, where the only seasons are summer and January.

I keep trying to convince my northern friends to get about 50 autumn leaves of various shapes, sizes and colors, laminate them, and send them to me so that I can scatter them all over my living room carpet, but so far my powers of persuasion leave a great deal to be desired.

Having spent the first 10 years of my life in Connecticut, I must say that I miss autumn, winter and spring. I miss snowballs and icicles (that most strangely spelled of all words), I miss planting flower bulbs and watching them burst through that very last patch of snow, those first hints of color heralding new life and new possibilities.

Without seasons, it’s hard to gauge the passage of time. Without that death, hibernation and rebirth, how can you be reminded that life goes on? How can you keep the faith that things will get better?

I have been trying to move north for nearly 30 years, and something always gets in my way. So I am left to gaze longingly at photos like the one below.

Enjoy what you have.

autumn leaves

Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rules!

As I lie here in a feverish fog brought on by a cold that surely came from the very bowels of hell, I have been thinking about chaos, or more specifically, what keeps our world from falling into chaos. Rules. Not laws, mind you. Those we cannot really control, and must abide by. No, I’m talking about the rules by which we lead our daily lives. These are often unwritten and seem to be agreed upon by some anonymous majority that has to do, by and large, with culture and community. We often follow these rules without even thinking about them or questioning their veracity.

Many rules make perfect sense and are created to preserve our lives, health, safety, or simply to sustain our collective ability to live in large groups. These rules include such things as looking both ways before you cross the street, not shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, washing your hands after using the bathroom, and waiting one’s turn. I can live with these types of rules.

But then you have rules that we all seem to follow, like lemmings off a cliff, for no good reason. For example, our front yards must be covered in a skinny green plant called grass, which requires a ghastly amount of time to maintain. It can’t be a skinny orange plant. It can’t be dollar weed, which is flat and green, too, and requires no maintenance whatsoever. No. It has to be grass. That’s the RULE.

And then there are fashion rules which we all seem to follow simply to avoid being laughed at. For example, men should never dress like women. Whatever. And tell me, why do both of our socks have to be the same color? Who decides which colors clash? And why is a paisley tie, for example, more formal than a tie-dyed T-shirt? Thank goodness some fashion rules have fallen by the wayside, mainly due to their lack of comfort, it seems. You just never see women wearing bustles anymore, or those conical bras that looked like they came from outer space. You don’t see men wearing powdered wigs. I think panty-hose is slowly making its exit, and I won’t be sorry to see it go. I don’t know why ties persist, as they serve no purpose. High heels should go, but I doubt men will ever stand for that (pun intended). Trust me when I say my high heel days are over.

Some rules made sense when they were first created, but frankly are outmoded. We seem to cling to them for tradition’s sake and for no other reason. For example (and here’s where I’ll probably alienate and/or offend half my readership), dietary rules. They made perfect sense at a time when we had no refrigeration, or when we were too nomadic to properly store or prepare our food, but nowadays?

Then you’ve got rules that are based on…nothing logical whatsoever. Even though it has long been proven to be untrue, how many of us were forced by our parents to wait an entire hour after eating before we could go swimming? How many hours have been lost to that annoying old wives tale? And why was I told once that it was tacky of me to have a roll of toilet paper on my desk for nose blowing purposes? Why must the paper be in rectangular sheets and stored in a cardboard box for it to be acceptable? And why must we eat dessert last, even as adults?

I must warn you, though, that once you start questioning the accepted norms of society, you are really going to open up a can of worms. People don’t LIKE their routines disrupted. They are made uncomfortable by people who zig when they should zag. So proceed with caution, and remember that this was written by someone with a low grade fever who is feeling rebellious.