My daughter returned from her first day of kindergarten with her very first offering for the art gallery, aka the refrigerator door. It was a Picasso-esque rendering of her family. There we were, all lined up, eyes forward, in descending order based on our height. Me to the left, Mom, slightly shorter, Morgan, then Tamara, then, shorter still, the five-year-old Tesse, followed by Kalopa, the bright orange cat. Stick figures, to be sure, but all with full, round smiling faces, all colored in–almost within the lines–a lovely shade of tan, like their Malaysian mother.
“Tesse, you didn’t color me?”
A frustrated frown of exasperation, followed by “I don’t know how to tell you this Dad, but you’re white!”
Which is a round-about way of saying I get where Laura is coming from, in this, the last of six semi-finalists to be posted. Here is
By Laura Elizabeth
First date, 8th grade, Star Wars premiere. We only had enough for the cheap family pass. “He’s my brother,” I told the lady behind the glass.
He felt like my brother. We talked for hours on the phone about our mother’s misery, our outsider status. Mine for being smart and skinny, his for lips soft as pillows and, as the girls said, an ass like two coconuts.
Why wouldn’t the lady hand us the pass? It worked with other friends. Then he pulled me, hard, behind the pinball machine. I hoped it was to kiss me.
“I’m black, stupid!” he said. He looked incredulous, a little sad.
I forgot his skin was a flag. “Well, you could be adopted. Or I could,” I laughed.
I thought it was a compliment, seeing no color, so close we could be family. But all evening, something was off. He never kissed me.
I know now I was wrong. Seeing no color sounds noble, and “Love Sees No Color” t-shirts sell like hot-cakes. But I’d looked past what life was like for him. Who he was.
Now, Ancestry.com sends me ads for DNA tests. I hope I’m a map of humanity, a tasty mix of everyone on the street. But why spit in the cup? I’m related to slave owners and asshole presidents. 50% Cro-Magnon, 100% privileged. My skin is the color of guilt.
When we pass on the street, you see the bright flag of my skin, a history I can’t scrub off. But if I just smile, it’s a new kind of flag. It cracks open a door. If we’re lucky, we’ll hear each other out, mix our spit, share our worlds. We’re all beautiful and broken. Brown or pale, blue or red. Love is a bridge, despite the news.
11 thoughts on “Laura Elizabeth, finalist entry #6”
Laura, I think vicarious guilt is not a useful emotion. People don’t go through their lives as categories but as individuals and to erase that, no matter the well-meant purpose, is an act of diminishment, and trying to rebalance the scales of justice by siphoning off the humanity of one general sort of people doesn’t magically enhance any others.
Is love the answer? Maybe that asks too much, and an absence of hostility would be a reasonable first step.
And I have to say that though based on only a very brief acquaintance with your work, I anticipated a much stronger entry from you, and I felt disappointed that you didn’t stretch beyond what you gave here.
I agree that for me and many of the writers, our first entries were stronger. Many of us have day jobs and children….and children always come first, which is as it should be. It’s often a function of the time and care one can put into the craft, and this was certainly a lightening quick assignment! I’ve seen this happen in previous contests as well. Strong first entries. Sadly, some of the finalists couldn’t enter the second round due to responsibilities, and we can still remember their excellent first entries.
One can think about a piece of writing while in the shower or doing the dishes or getting the kids’ dinner ready.
But if this specific time-frame problem was afflicting many semi-finalists, perhaps that should have been communicated to Thorn. If we had three days to submit something, but Mr. Freedman has more than fifteen to make his decision, some adjustment of the time-space continuum might be in order. Maybe a pause and rewind and then an accelerated last act would be fairer to everyone.
I enjoyed your writing, Laura. White privilege is an issue, as is the truth of history. But acknowledging those seemingly unassailable pillars and starting to see beyond the vista they frame are steps forward to that more open future you allude to.
Does a phrase like “white privilege” increase or diminish the chances for a meaningful dialogue?
What if we opened the conversation by talking about a “historical imbalance of power reinforced by hateful laws whose legacy still haunts us?”
In my opinion,’white privilege’ cuts to the chase. It’s often the white elephant in the room, or on the news.
The point, though, is that going after elephants with nuclear bombs poisons the atmosphere and causes a lot of damage with indiscriminate shrapnel.
We understand our history. We can’t change it. But we need to find the most sensible way of curing the lingering infection so people are willing to undergo the cure.
I mean–we see that with literary critiques, don’t we? People don’t respond well to blunt assessments, do they?
I found interesting the recurring flag imagery as well as the suggestion that there are so many “types” of flags. Some we know we wave and others we are completely oblivious to their flapping.
Glad you saw this in the work, Jon. Love your creative observations. (I think we’re both metaphor addicts, which is a good thing).