Colors

Monday Morning Musings:

“The pianokeys are black and white
but they sound like a million colors in your mind”

–Maria Cristina Mena, The Collected Stories of Maria Cristina Mena
“Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.”

–Eleanor Roosevelt

“The marriage institution cannot exist among slaves, and one sixth of the population of democratic America is denied it’s privileges by the law of the land. What is to be thought of a nation boasting of its liberty, boasting of it’s humanity, boasting of its Christianity, boasting of its love of justice and purity, and yet having within its own borders three millions of persons denied by law the right of marriage?”

–Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom

 

 The dogwood blossomed white across the city street,

green pots filled with brighter green plants adorned

the tables of an outside café

the earth is throwing off its winter grey,

awakening in shades of

pink, white, yellow, and green.

In the theater row in front of me,

sat a woman with chestnut brown curls

highlighted with a few strands of silver

flowing past her shoulders,

to her right was a woman with tight, black corkscrew curls

patches of nut brown skin visible between them,

to her left, a woman with straight, wheat blond hair

conversed with her auburn-hair friend

on stage were actors with various shades of brown skin

The play?

August Wilson’s Two Trains Running,

recreating life in a luncheonette, Pittsburgh 1969–

but it is an eerie echo of today

“Blacks Lives Matter,”

“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,”

black men in prison

guns

and women objectified—

well, some things never change, do they?

The set looks like a real luncheonette,

a pot of coffee, a glass diner carafe,

constantly on behind the counter,

a broken, homeless man

who can utter only one phrase,

the characters dream of a better life,

don’t we all?

 

The next day,

in another theater

in the same city,

the day cloudy and grey,

An Octoroon

by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins,

a black playwright

or a playwright?

It’s a head-spinning tour-de-force,

a play within a play

the nineteenth-century play,

The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault

blackface

whiteface

redface

black actors,

white actors–

just actors–

male and female,

and musicians,

there were chickens, too,

real chickens in a pen,

and Br’er Rabbit

(who, if it matters, had a white head and ears).

Colors and race,

we race to catch a bus,

we win a race,

we are members of the human race,

race, a silly word to describe–

What? What does it describe?

An octoroon was one eighth black,

(whatever that means)

unable to marry a white person

(whatever that means)

in Louisiana in 1859.

We get caught up in the 19th century

melodrama–

Will Zoe be sold?

Will George marry Dora?

An actor literally fights himself.

Two playwrights, different centuries

discuss the power of theater,

Boucicault was known for his

“sensation scenes,”

we are meant to feel

to be overwhelmed,

and we are.

But race?

If we go back far enough

we are all descended from the same pair,

some relative of Lucy’s in East Africa,

and some of us have Neanderthal genes, too.

Farther back still,

we are all made from star dust.

So what does that make us?

I am not naïve–OK. Perhaps I am, but

if your laws or religion tell you

to limit the rights of others

who have skin of a different color,

whose eyes are brown, when yours are blue,

whose genitalia differs from your own

who loves a person who has similar genitalia

who worships with his or head covered–

or does not believe in any god at all—

well, then, your laws and your religion

are simply wrong.

No debate.

Colors should describe flowers, the sea

the eyes of your beloved

not exclude and divide human beings.

The playwright says the point of theater is to

overload our senses

to make us feel–

and think–

And so we did

And so we do.

 

We saw Two Trains Running at the Arden Theatre.

We saw An Octoroon at the Wilma Theater. 

 

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28 thoughts on “Colors

  1. Lovely rhapsody in color. Would that we could get rid of the sour notes, blend some hues, keep the true.

    I see you typing this on your computer in the kitchen, Merril with the curly light brown locks. 😉

  2. Beautiful. The theater of race. That’s an image for me because my dissertation was on “performing identities” and one chapter was on performing race. Because that’s all it is–it isn’t real. A necessity in our world, for sure, but not real.
    By the way, the most recent thing I read was that almost all non-African origin humans today have Neanderthal genes, whereas most people are who mainly of African origin do not. I always read this stuff with caution, but it fascinates me anyway. For the record, hubby, both my Korean kids, and I all have about the same percentage of Neanderthal gene, according to 23andme. I think the knowledge though at this point is pretty poor quality.

    • Thank you for the fascinating information, Luanne–both about your dissertation and your genetic background. It’s all so interesting. I agree that there’s so much that is not yet known. I did the ancestry.com test, but it only reveals likely ancestry–I’m nearly all eastern European Jewish, according to them. 🙂

  3. Beautifully said Merril. We debase the use of the word colour when we use it too describe skin tones for the reason of racially profiling or for segregation.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  4. So well said, Merrill. I live in quite a bubble at the moment and don’t get exposed to much nastiness at the moment and being in writing mode, I’m not watching TV and discrimination of any sort just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. Why can’t people just be nice? That is synonymous with “boring” just as being nasty doesn’t make you “interesting”.
    Enjoy your Spring. It sounds so enchanting xx Rowena

  5. Sorry that last sentence should read: Nice is NOT synonymous with “boring” just as being nasty doesn’t make you “interesting”.
    I hope that makes sense. It was a long day at the show yesterday!
    xx Ro

  6. I know I frequently use the same words in my comments on your musings, but it can’t be helped (perhaps I need to “increase my word power” as Reader’s Digest used to encourage us to do). I love this post. ♥♥♥ Beautiful musings, especially this: “Colors should describe flowers, the sea…” Yes, they should. I hope someday they do.

  7. As per usual, a brilliant meditation on a multitude of topics yet woven together seamlessly. So much here to discuss, but I will say this to paraphrase what your piece ends with: the point of art is to make us feel – and think. And this is what your work has done.

    “race, a silly word to describe– / What? What does it describe?” Aside from the personal voice this conjures, that building frustration with problems that shouldn’t be problems, it brings up a really great question: What does it describe? We collectively use this word all the time, but can we the the question. (And going further, what is ethnicity when one has to say something like I’m 7% Irish, 23% Slovakian, 12% Italian and 58% Scandinavian?)

    Yet our commonality which so many don’t perceive seems so simple: “the characters dream of a better life, / don’t we all?”

    • Thanks so much, Doug, for your comment. I’m glad I did get you to think and feel. I agree (of course) with what you say. When I started to think about race and ethnicity, it all seemed so silly and pointless. I imagined someone coming from another planet–someone who truly is of another race–saying, “They’re arguing about- what?”

  8. Fascinating images, Merril, reaching across time to share the human experience–race, love,tolerance, “if we go back far enough in time, we are all descended from the same pair” Beautiful! 🙂

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