Yesterday, a new friend and I were talking about various anti-racist efforts we had been involved in.
Both of us had worked with the Unitarian universalists in anti-racist movements, but both of us had come away disillusioned from this experience, feeling as though there was something wanting in the ways that the mostly white movement had addressed anti-racist dialogues. Still, both of us remain idealistic that there can be a way to address racism that neither alienates nor infuriates any group present.
I then started to explain that I had become involved in The Everyone Is Beautiful project, aka The Kindred Colors project, www.kindredcolors.com.
This resource has two parts. The first part is a book and cd made by youth of color in Roxbury, MA, talking about the nature of beauty, sharing their music and poems, and then going on to look at the history of skin, human migration, and the uses of skin. Finally, it ends with the UN declaration of human rights. The second part of this project is the part that draws most people in. It is an interactive exhibit with stones, pieces of wood, shells, grains, felt, and mirrors.
The object of the exhibit is to get people from ages 5 to 105 to realize that their skins are not like crayons, but are different colors found in nature, such as the spiral of a conch shell, or a nutshell. The mirrors are there to allow people to put their skin next to that of their friends or neighbors and notice just the color, and how their skins are different. A girl who had always been ashamed for being the "dark" one in her family came back to her house with a shell and showed it to her mother (who was the same color) and said, "There, that's my color." Her mother loved it so much that they proudly kept it on the mantle of their fireplace.
We are not colorblind, and we shouldn't pretend to be. This exhibit is a very gentle way to look at skin, and it may be too gentle for some, but I found that it a profound effect on the way I saw and interacted with people in the world. It's not about blame and shame. It's about seeing people for who they really are.
So often, when we see a person who is a different color than we are on the street, we automatically make assumptions about that person, rather than just noticing the fellow human being in that skin. After using this resource, I found myself questioning my ingrained reactions and starting to look more clearly at people as just people. I feel that this resource is appropriate for schools, churches, community centers, nonprofits, and anywhere people feel constrained by their concepts of race. In this context, we can open our eyes to all of the different colors on our skins, our fingernails and the soles of our feet, and notice our similiarities as well as our differences.
In the words of a 5 year old, Frankie, who saw this exhibit, I'll close and say, "We are all beautiful colors."