Lickety Split

For I am white, but oh my soul is black.*

Would William Blake understand those words? Actually I am pink and yellow and brown and black and blotched and spotty, but my soul is human and color blind.

I suppose it began when my first nursemaid put her arms around me in a big hug. We were not a hugging family. We had eastern European roots and unquestioned rules about propriety and forms of behavior. Following the rules was pre-eminent. (Of course, my Mother broke the rules consistently: she wore lipstick when no one was looking, and she dared to buy a dishwasher where meat and dairy dishes commingled in sudsy joy).

Whose rules? Older white males who controlled the finances and levied their power over the families, which meant over the women. They were loud men, with large cigars and they smelled of arrogance. Their word was law, and they had centuries of Biblical tradition to back them up. It never occurred to anyone to question God's gender. (God wore a bra? Heresy!) It never occurred to anyone to question why these were God's "chosen people": did he not choose Confucius? Gandhi? Bigotry was law, delivered to Moses on a (non-Apple) tablet.

So Dorothy, for such was her name, hugged and loved and gave her generous lap to two affection-starved children. Yes, Virgina, there is an Oz, and a Santa, and a world where love and compassion reign.

Fast-forward to 1956, when my graduating class at a prestigious Eastern women's college invited Ralph Bunche to be our commencement speaker. By that time, Bunche had won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with over thirty honorary degrees, and been welcomed to New York City with a ticker tape parade up Broadway in his honor. His peace negotiations in the Middle East were universally admired. But the College administration forced us to rescind his invitation. After all, there were young women graduating whose parents from the deep South would never attend a ceremony with a black man as honored speaker. These same young women arrived at college convinced that Jews wore horns. Apparently they left with their bigotries untarnished by a BA degree.

I was appalled. My education felt like a mockery. That same institution of higher intolerance refused a gift of my art for their Museum. We don't collect that stuff they responded.

I was appalled recently when a respected gallerist, curator and art lover told me that a little girl had once licked his hand because he was the largest piece of chocolate she had ever seen. Can you imagine the reaction of some of our Congressmen if an African-American youngster licked his vanilla hand?

I am embarrassed to think what it must be like for Sasha and Malia to come home to The "White" House as their primary residence. Why for heaven's sake don't we change that inclusive/exclusive designation? It has been changed before. It was originally called "The Executive Mansion", "The President's Palace" and "The President's House", until Theodore Roosevelt changed it to "The White House" in 1901. Actually it had been painted white to hide the burn marks when the British burned it in 1812, and you can still see the black burn marks under the paint.

So the "Executive Residence" , like myself, is white but its soul is black. That's kind of okay, in its way. But isn't it time to change its name? Isn't it time for all of us to recognize that children, born free of bigotry, should be allowed to stay that way? Maybe we could even learn something from them.

Let's do better, lickety split.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2012

*William Blake's words were: I am black, but O, my soul is white! from Songs of Innocence and Experience.