Doing Dialogue

Color Change

June 23, 2017

True story.

A tourist mother and her 4 year old boy walked through Boston Commons.
The boy asked his mother, “Mommy, can people change their color?”
“No, honey. People can’t change their color. It’s like people can’t change where they’re born.”
The boy thought for just a moment. “Not even adults?”

It’s important to asks questions, free of jaded assumptions, stereotypes and intentions. Why, you ask? Good question! Because the brain is not a sponge. It’s an intricate conduit for neurons to potentially connect. And in the turmoil of synapses firing, the blossoming recognition of reality and wonder fills a little boy’s head.

Change is constant. Diversity is constant. In fact, the only reason the universe exists is because every particle is slightly different from the next. If we only ask, “why” in the face of change, we are left to our own devices to adjust the sails, or sink.

Race categories are just like that. Like a contingency of ships in a crowded bay, always in jeopardy of crashing into each other, and the sinking feeling of remorse expressed clinically in the evening news. The truth is that we know deep down, that we’re all the same race. Color is just the frosting.

“Yes, we can change colors.” The mother might have said. “There are tanning booths, spray tan, skin bleaching, and moving to New England, where as we can see the sun rarely shines, and given our complexion I can safely say that within two years we will have categorically, and according to the Census Bureau and The Office of Management and Budget, changed our color.”

One of the many reasons we’re living in contentious times with conflicted emotions about troublesome matters, losing connection to people who are seen as difficult, ignorant and bigoted, is because we believe we don’t have to pose the question. Of course we think we’re right in our knowledge about people who are different, because not knowing is perceived as a weakness.

The layers of identity under our skin color speak volumes about change, whether or not the color actually changes. Life is a series of universal and singular adjustments that present as questions and answers, adjunct moments like walking barefoot on the fresh cut grass.

A quick walk through the city park on a hot summer day will leave tan lines, and the little boy, filled with a suitcase of questions, is on his journey through life.

May all your questions be asked.

Teja joined Essential Partners in April, 2017. He brings a thirty-year combined experience as a PBS documentary producer, professor of media/communications and race & ethnic relations, diversity and inclusion trainer and public speaker. He has an Emmy Award and three Telly Awards for social issues PBS documentaries, and is the author of four books about race and culture. He started his company, Entertaining Diversity, Inc. in 1992, to teach issues of racism through entertainment. Teja is African-American/Filipino and German, and grew up in Japan, has traveled through many countries and has been a keynote speaker in over 1,200 locations around the US. Telling stories that build bridges between many perspectives has always been his mission in life and work.