I’m sitting in the airport in Paris ready to board my flight home, enjoying the last minutes surrounded by multiple voices and languages, skin tones, and customs. I love international travel. It pulls me out of my comfort zone. It puts me inside of the experience of the perfect, beautiful diversity of humanity on this planet with all our foibles and grace.
Just now, the Asian woman in the bathroom helping the two dark-skinned girls reach the sink to wash their hands. Both little girls in pink dresses with purple stockings, pink ribbons in their ringlets, their luggage also pink decorated with Disney princesses, all white-skinned and blonde. Their dad waiting for them, deep ebony skin, reminded them to thank the woman, then bent to help one of the girls with a buckle on her pink shoe. A perfect princess moment.
As I waited in line for my boarding pass earlier this morning, I considered the woman in line in front of me, aware that by virtue of the color of her dark skin, she likely waits in a different line than I do – I don’t mean physically, (though sometimes yes even that), but psychologically. By virtue of my skin tone, I wait in a line that assumes privilege and ease.
My skin is white – mostly. I have some ‘gypsy’ in my heritage – past generations, immigrants, disrespected, insulted, at times barred from success for their rough dark skin. Bohemian. And Irish. Races that at points in our history were kicked around, even killed because of their race. But this doesn’t happen for me. I move through the world encased in a bubble of white privilege.
I have been in France visiting a friend and checking out presentations and exhibits at les Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles. One of the shows I saw included a gamer-style video that mentioned the Tower of Babel. Reconstructing it in a desert. The myth of humanity once unified, then split apart. Cruel punishment by a vindictive God.
In line this morning I thought about the human impulse to divide. We break ourselves down into smaller and smaller pods, preserving privilege and holding others back. But we also resist this. We also help each other out.
I don’t know what I’m saying here, except that I don’t want to live in a world where people get killed for their skin color – black or white. I don’t want to be in a universe based on divisions. I thrive on diversity and difference. I want the beauty of that to be the full basis of human relations.
The present environment in the U.S., with purported leaders accentuating negative impulses, creating opportunity for anger and hatred – profiting on fear and division – is an expression of that Tower of Babel myth. The idea that we don’t deserve unity. That we need a singular strong leader to control us and keep us ‘in our place’. But we don’t.
I’ve always thought I lived, and would live in, a world steadily moving towards enlightenment. I’ve believed in the idea that while we still have a long way to go, gradually, steadily, racism and sexism and homophobia and all the other divisive impulses would resolve. That ultimately we as humans would grow more graceful and accepting and become the full expression of our possibility.
Even in the face of the terrible recent events in the world, I still believe in this world. That woman in the bathroom this morning helping those two perfect princesses dressed in pink? And their dad and the grace of those two little girls? That moment proves it.
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