Two months and ten days

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life…”

—”Seasons of Love” from Rent


Two months and ten days.

That’s the amount of time between the global outcry, “Let the Syrian Refugees In!” after the heartwrenching image of a small boy on a beach, to the current calls to “Keep the Syrian Refugees Out!”

How transient the sentiment, that the face of Syrians fleeing war has gone from the desperate families running across European fields, tripped by a sneering camera woman that we jeered, to some menacing phantom terrorist. (That passport? Faked. Will an account from The Paper of Record suffice for you?)

Two months and ten days after the limp body of a child made us feel that we could all, any of us, be the haggard and bereaved, many of us find the shocked and bloodied Parisians much more kin, and join in with a chorus of suspicion.

Two months and ten days after the poetry of Warsan Shire burst out in public view, speaking for the why of refugees—

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well…”


(I will not quote further from her deeply moving poem. You can find it elsewhere online, but I do not have her permission to use it here, and so I will not simply take it. I hope that the site I linked has her permission and has offered her recompense.)


Two months and ten days. Aylan Kurdi, I’m sorry.

Hard to Believe?

It’s hard to believe that this still happens in 2015…”


 

Dear white allies of social justice,

When you say, “hard to believe” — what comes across is, “I live in a white bubble, and I continue to be mired in the apparent reality of it. I approach the reporting of my friends of color with doubt, because of the disparity between their experience and mine, and have not yet come to interrogating the very real divide that exists between us because of systemic issues.”

This is not a harmless thing you’re saying, this “hard to believe”.

When will you stop finding it hard to believe? When will you stop putting us to tests that you yourself would find difficult to pass? When will you stop demanding excellence in reporting and conduct from us, when you give whiteness all the slack?

When will you stop with the disparity in “well, maybe…” for white transgressions when POC who are not absolutely saintly are excoriated?

#20effing15

What is the color of a sheet of paper?

I don’t see color. Racism starts when people distinguish between people because of skin tone.”—(not from the Dictionary of Social Justice)


What color is a sheet of paper?

“Well, it’s white, unless it’s colored paper.”

“Why is it white by default?”

“Things just show up better on white paper.”


There’s an art exercise where one draws on black paper instead of white. Often that results in someone using white marks on black just as if it were black marks on white paper—a simple inversion—but sometimes, it leads to a deeper shift in concept. What happens when you paint with light instead of dark? When you make dark the default, instead of the colored-in?

What if you went further? What if, instead of marking the paper, you used pinpricks and knife cuts? What if instead of light shining on the paper, you assumed light shining from behind the paper? What color paper would be useful in that situation?

White paper is the default “best” for a whole set of parameters we rarely examine.

…but we bleach our tree pulp paper to achieve whiteness because of those unexamined parameters.

Assuming the undefined “person” is White carries a similar set of unexamined parameters and consequences. When, as a person perceived as White by those around you, you assume that “color blind” means “like the default person” and your default person is white, this is like handing out only black crayons and not noticing that some people are not using white paper. The crayon choice was made without considering the impact it would have on papers outside your [unexamined] default assumption.

“But I offered the entire box!” 

And how were the colors in the box chosen? And why are we using crayons? Why are we assuming putting down marks on the paper?


Imagine living your whole life as colored paper in a world that assumes paper is white. “If you just put down your marks carefully, and with good attention to placement, your message will be easily understood!”