I am a child of the 80s and so have never seen a “colored only” sign over a bathroom or water fountain. And then one day I visited a friend, T. Lang - a wonderfully talented artist and choreographer here in Atlanta. T. Lang uses her own experience and heritage to inspire her work, which means she often explores the connection between race and identity. This issue is a constant source of inspiration for her and even her house is evidence of this. And that brings me to my first sighting of the sign. On a wall in her guest bathroom, T. Lang hung an antique sign, boldly printed in black and white, that reads “Colored Only.” When I asked her about the sign and why she chose to incorporate it into her home, she explained to me that it’s a symbol of past triumphs, a reminder that her ancestors overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
The sign and T. Lang’s interpretation have stuck in my mind ever since. The more I reflect on that sign, the more I see it as a direction into a future built by me and those of my race.
But first we need to be clear about my race. I am a coloured person. By adding that U (yes, you, too), we are considering a new idea of race. Color is the past. Colour is the future. Colour is my race.
If you’re a coloured person, you know it. We may be a little hard to distinguish at first. We come in different skin shades and speak with different accents. We appear in cultures across the world in bodies that are as diverse as they are unique. Our race is not defined by the superficial, by appearance or nationality. Coloured people are characterized in an abstract way: by our thoughts and intentions.
If you’re coloured, you can feel it. You might cry at injustice or seethe with rage at corruption. You daydream or explore. You can’t understand why there’s so much suffering and hatred in the world. You are deeply spiritual, even if you’re open minded about what “spiritual” means.
But there is one obvious common trait: you probably feel like you don’t fit in.
Our colours don’t fit comfortably in this black and white world with its easy categories and scary absolutes. Many coloured people feel like a stranger in their own homeland, an alien on their own planet. That’s because we have been dwelling on and in the invisible worlds: working with secret acts of kindness that don’t appear in commercials, creating silent moments of courage that are ignored by the news, exploring spiritual and emotional worlds that are rejected by the economy. Our colours, our very unique nature, have been under attack, undervalued, and misunderstood for a long time. We went into hiding long ago. We have become so good at hiding that we have even forgotten how to find ourselves.
But all of that is changing. By exploring spiritual and artistic depths, by making meaningful connections, by finding each other, we are doing something that many would have thought impossible: we are making the invisible visible.
Those who currently hold the power in this world would have you believe that we are a dying minority. They will tell you there is no place for colour in their black and white world. They will say we’re idealistic or childish. They’ll lecture that our system isn’t responsible in the short term and doesn’t work in the long term. They imply that the only way is their way – a way of feast and famine, privileged and impoverished, success and failure.
And that’s where this black and white world loses me. I question who is rewarded by this system. All too often I hear about disturbing and disturbed people who hold positions of high esteem and power. I am frequently told that these undesirable traits are a natural part of humanity.But could it be that these traits are the very cause of their “success?”
In his Forbes article entitled Why (Some) Psychopaths Make Great CEOs, Jeff Bercovici points out a well-known statistic - that psychopathy is four times higher among CEOs than the general population.When going into detail, Bercovici references the example of Al (“Chainsaw”) Dunlap, a now retired corporate executive known for his ruthless methods to downsize businesses and increase shareholder value. Bercovici recalls his interview with Dunlap, saying he “was a man who seemed to enjoy firing people, not to mention the stories from his first marriage — telling his first wife he wanted to know what human flesh tastes like, not going to his parents’ funerals.Then you realize that because of this dysfunctional capitalistic society we live in those things were positives. He was hailed and given high-powered jobs, and the more ruthlessly his administration behaved, the more his share price shot up.”
Eventually Dunlap ranked high on several lists of the world’s worst CEOs, but that was only after he got a little too greedy. Like Elizabeth Bathory, a 16th century Hungarian countess and serial killer who tortured and killed hundreds of young women, Dunlap was only stopped and ousted when he began preying on his own class. Thousands of working families were tormented by Dunlap’s downsizing tactics and fear-based work environments, but he was working on a pedestal until he began to steal from his clients’ companies. When he was caught, he was thrown from his pedestal.
A CEO and a countess – both ruthless and both symbols of success in our world. If this is success in the black and white world, I don’t want any part of it. I recognize that earth is a diverse place – diverse and divided. Not everyone thinks like me or like those of my coloured race. But I cannot abide by this earth being used, abused, and manipulated by the black and white people whose intentions are so self-serving and narrow-minded. After all, the world is not black and white, it is coloured.
And so I call to you, my coloured brothers and sisters, to realize that we are not a dying minority, nor should we continue to be in hiding.
Think of your colour as chakras, eccentricities, or artistic passions. Call them what you will, but be proud of your colour. Let’s stand and walk out of the shadows. Let’s complicate this cold, black and white world by adding our colours. We will rise and demand to be seen. This beautiful, coloured earth is calling to us because it is one of us. Will you answer the call with me?
Later in his article, Bercovici questions the future direction of the world, saying, “Is society getting more and more psychopathic in its kind of desire for short-term killings? Is that because we kind of admire psychopaths in all their glib, superficial charm and ruthlessness?”
My answer to that is no! No, because it is we, the people of colour who will overcome, rise up, and make a change. Let’s hang a sign over this world: Coloured Only.