The Purple Carrot World

When we look into the mirror of ancient history, we like what we see - Homo erectus, the "upright walking man"; Homo habilis, the "tool-using man"; Homo neanderthalensis, the cave-painting man. We view them as rather unique creatures. We certainly don't consider them exemplars of interbreeding.

Until researchers at the University of Arizona found evidence that in fact interbreeding occurred some twenty thousand to sixty thousand years ago. In fact, there may have been thousands of interbreeding occasions. The conclusion is that we are neither unique today, nor separate and special.

Ouch. There goes our hubris.

We also thought we were unique in the star-system. We looked up and out, and everything celestial seemed to revolve around us. Homo centralis, it seemed. Until NASA took us "out there", out where we had previously been looking, and suddenly our planet was neither central to the universe nor unique. In fact, we discovered that Earth is an infinitely tiny mite in a vast celestial panoply. We hardly exist at all, and then only as minute players in a mammoth enterprise.

Simultaneously, back on earth, tall white specimens with preferably blue eyes and hopefully blond hair were strutting about in their presumed superiority. They "owned" the planet, politically, industrially, economically, strategically. They had more, and more sophisticated, weaponry to prove it. They ruled, not only over non-white men but over women of what ever color. To be a white anglo-saxon male was to be a winner; anything else was lesser-than.

Suddenly, however, that assumption began to totter. Our institutions began tumbling. Our churches were apparently perpetrators of ugliness, and against children no less. Our staid bankers were wearing handcuffs, when they were caught. The stellar minds in our universities were more often foreign nationals. Our economy began to falter, our leaders seemed impotent at best and ignorant at worst, our industries were failing and our political system appeared to stumble badly.

Now comes a Professor at Stanford University, that bastion of conservative thinking, daring to suggest that black women look for non-black husbands to improve their lot in life. Not only a black President, but an intermingling of "the other" with "the one". How dare he! Impurity will result, with what can only be a lesser human. We won't know how to discriminate based on color anymore. Artists have mixed colors since ancient times, but we all know how suspect artists are.*

In a recent TED talk, a young South African woman recounted how she lost her faith in literature when she discovered that the western book tradition didn't have heroes with frizzy black hair. Likewise, women artists look in vain for the glory of a Michelangela or the triumph of a Tintoretta. They are lost in a cloud of toxic silence.**

The known world seems to have developed cracks, doesn't it, with assumptions shattering and certainties dissolving. Despots are being overthrown in the Middle East. Corruption and ignorance are undermining democracies. A six-ton satellite, described as a "flaming fire ball", has fallen to earth, but NASA doesn't know where or even how far the debris field might be. Technology is taking our jobs and invading our private spaces. Our once-safe world seems filled with purple carrots and they are about to devour us. Even Australia, that haven of sanity, is threatening to issue passports with genders marked as female, male, or indeterminate. If Australia can't figure out who we are, how can we?

No wonder there are flash mobs everywhere. No wonder the financial markets are in turmoil. Doesn't color prove that some of us are better than others? Doesn't Godness win over Godless? Doesn't anatomy triumph over dickless and unboobed?

I used to call my patio Dirty Bird Lane. I had the proper bird bath, but forlorn and unused. Surely the birds had blackballed me, so they had to be smelly birds. And then one morning a tiny wren appeared and in the evening another. A tiny brown bird with a black head and a big heart. She's now President of my patio. She doesn't care if I have wings, if I vote or if I pray. We just get along in a tiny corner of the world. Maybe you could too.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2011

*For more on Dr. Ralph Richards Banks, see ynot this month.

**Chimamanda Adichie's talk, "The Danger of a Single Story" is well worth listening to.