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!”

Something like a centipede problem

A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg moves after which?”
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.

Classically, the Centipede’s Dilemma refers to the problem of a complex task, which one has learned to perform semi-consciously, becoming nearly impossible when one attempts to micromanage the process consciously. What I’m struggling with here is more akin to Writer’s Block, except that my problem is not whether to write, but on what topic. Reactivity serves to select direction for me at other venues, but here I’m hoping that Shades Between becomes a repository of my more deliberate work, which has been piling up as I’ve been prioritizing other tasks. Thus, a quandary—where should I start?

I am betting the solution to this in an approach I call, “There has to be a first pancake.” It’s a truism that for most of us who do not make pancakes daily, that the first pancake is usually terrible: burnt, stuck, runny, thick, or weirdly deep-fried. The solution is to practice making pancakes until one has the perfect setup (and the requisite adjustments) down to rote. And thus, time in the kitchen teaches us practical lessons for everything else.

It’s always been the plan to have Food Fridays here, touching on precarity, gastrotourism, cultural appropriation vs. culinary fusion, and even some classic food blogging. Wednesdays, I’ll be answering questions about etiquette that centers social justice awareness rather than the status quo. (I’ll post a call for your conundrums soon.) I have thoughts about Sundays, and there’s very likely to be posts in between about pop culture and parenting and politics and the long list of my other interests, because I’ve never been good at staying entirely within the box except when I was coloring.

And now, having broached the breach, I do have a post to write.

Step outside the box, friend

We are encouraged to think in terms of oppositions and binary states—yes/no, black/white, straight/gay, male/female, privileged/marginalized—but our actual world, and actual people, don’t fit so neatly into those tight boxes. Our technologies may depend on on/off states, but the humans using them want fuzzy logic instead.

Welcome to ShadesBetween.com, where I’ll be posting my thoughts on navigating the unmarked middle ground.