The color of your heart
Ethnic melting pot?
May 19, 2005
It is 2 am, and I sit here, outside of my
father's hospital room, on the very uncomfortable veneer coaches
consolation of those who are staying with a loved one. Margaret
is taking a nap on the little couch next to me, not sleeping in
her husband's room, which is next to my father's. She
says that she is afraid that her occasional snoring may wake everyone.
So, I am in charge of waking her up if she snores.
sister occupies the other room next to my father's, finally
accepted to go home tonight to get some sleep. She is taking
care of her sister by herself, so she really needs the rest. I
her that I would be up most of the night, and would call her
should anything happen. Thankfully, between my mother, brother
we each get the chance to trade places and therefore get more
rest than either Margaret or Diane.
My family, Diane and her sister, and Margaret and her husband,
we all have seen a great deal of each other in the last two weeks.
We have spent most days together, learning a great deal about each
other's past, present, and hopes about the future. Margaret
and her husband are African-American and in their early 40's,
Diane and her sister are third generation white Texans in their
sixties and only a few years apart, and my family is Iranian.
Demographically speaking we are all as different as one could
possibly make us. We are all from different cultural, geographical,
religious, educational and socio-economical backgrounds, and between
the 8 of us we cover every age bracket known to man! And yet we
seem to take comfort in that. Or is it that we are all too tired,
too scared, too needy, and all too hopeful to dwell on our differences
too much? Maybe we are just grateful that our differences give
us something to talk about during those late hours when sleep escapes
us all-- due to what surrounds us.
Under different circumstances would we have ever sat with each
other to talk, and really listen and connect? In our everyday lives
would we all have ever thought that at some level we could relate
to each other? I truly do not think so.
On a normal sunny Houston afternoon, would Diane and my mother
have ever had coffee together, with Diane overlooking my mother's
accent and wrong English grammar, and my mother forgetting the
fact that Diane knows nothing about the place she comes from, not
even where it is approximately? Would Diane and Margaret have ever
attempted a friendship, overlooking not only their age difference,
but also their skin color and the history that separates them?
Would Margaret have ever told me about her son dating a young woman
from the Middle East and her displeasure with the fact that they have
become serious? And would I have been as willing to listen to her
worries, and her beliefs about interracial relationships being
more difficult and probably not as healthy, without becoming
defensive? I truly do not believe so.
Nevertheless, this is where we are now, and this is really what
counts at this moment. The truth is that we are capable of expanding
our own horizons. If we chose, we can be more open minded, more
flexible and even stronger than even we realize. John Duckitt in
an article about psychology and prejudice wrote that "in
the 1960's and 1970's the dominant image of prejudice
was that of a norm and was embedded in the social environment." I
thought about this, in regards to today's society, and more
specifically in regards to what I had observed in the hospital
in the previous couple of weeks.
In the past, absolute and powerful racism was
part of the scenery, but today there is a more subtle kind that
we live with, one that blends in and becomes part of the environment
for us all. In today's world, as long as our prejudice is
not manifested clearly or outwardly, then no eyebrows are raised.
No one ever thinks twice that the Dianes, Margarets, and the first
generation immigrant families, like mine, would generally never
mingle, really be friends, or have each other's cell phone
numbers. That kind of pure integration still remains a rarity,
and its lack within our culture still the norm.
So, racism has
only changed faces, it has changed its legal standing, its voice
has become a whisper, and its appearance more like a shadow and
less clear... but it still exists. However, its undefined
and fleeting nature makes it even harder to catch! The first
step is to admit that it exists, that each of us lives with some
of prejudice, but to also understand that we are all capable
of changing. We can all broaden our horizons and replace our fears
with understanding, substitute our confusion with curiosity,
supersede our stereotypes with first hand knowledge! And why
wait until the next heart attack, next loss, next earthquake or
war to do it?
What if our society took this concept and ran with it? What if
schools created programs where kids would go on little "exchange
programs" and stay with each other's families for a
couple of days. What if cultural awareness classes started earlier
on during our educational years, and not as a last drop in the
bucket mandated crash course we all take before our licensing and
board exams, right before we become politically correct doctors,
lawyers and professionals. Wouldn't the impact of a course
like that be greater in elementary school?
I decided that if I could not change the school programs at this
point, I probable could at least do something with my own sore
spot. So, I went to a Mosque, one that I had passed daily with
a sense of resentment for 14 years. A place I had never set foot
in previously, although technically a Muslim myself.
I only stayed for a few minutes, I did not speak to anyone, and
only prayed for my father and left. For me that was a first step.
And so late at night (or was it early morning?) I wrote:
The Color of Your Heart
This very moment
is yesterday's tomorrow
and tomorrow's past.
This very moment
is my first breath
or my very last.
This very moment
I can feel the pain
or eternal bliss.
I can reach for sorrow
or this moment's kiss.
It's all in what I see
how this moment goes.
I can see a dear friend
or the very best of foes.
I can see your skin
and determine what you're not;
Or look within your soul
to the color of your heart.