50 Shades of Gray

Maybe the title of this post sparked your interest. No, it is not about the book and movie by the same name. This post is about something that has been on my mind since November 8, 2016, election day.

Over the past several months, I have been reading, listening, observing and sometimes commenting on what is happening in our country. I have done my best to keep my emotions at bay and show my children that it is important for us to be tolerant and patient with others who might not agree with our views. When it comes to deliberation, I never see the answer as black or white. I tend to see the gray in every debate. Sometimes the shade of gray is a deep charcoal and sometimes it is silver. Trying to navigate the last few months has been challenging however, my children continue to teach me about acceptance and tolerance.

My first lesson in acceptance of our new reality was from my son. During the last few weeks of the 2016 presidential campaigns, my son grew very interested in what was happening. We did our best to allow him to come to conclusions on his own rather than encourage him to agree with his father and me. Several times, I remember Thomas coming home after school, quiet and thoughtful, trying to process what he had heard on the bus, during lunch, on a YouTube video or from the older kids at school. Sometimes he would talk to me about the things he was hearing and other times he chose to process the information on his own, trying to culminate an opinion. When he decided to talk about it, I would listen, interject as needed, substantiate facts when appropriate and caution him when the information was hearsay.

On Election day, I took him with me to the polls, answering his questions and educating him on how lucky we are to live in the United States. That evening, Thomas wanted to watch some of the news coverage stating “This is my country and I want to know what happens.”  We sat on the couch and watched together.  We talked about women’s rights, religious freedom, and democracy. I explained the meaning of white privilege and that he need not feel guilty about the color of his skin but rather, use his privilege for the betterment of others. Around 9:00 pm, it appeared as though Clinton was going to be our next president. Thomas was growing tired and decided to head upstairs and retire for the evening. I kissed my boy goodnight and reminded my 11, going on 20 year old, to brush his teeth. He fell asleep feeling hopeful and excited.

Mark and I continued to follow the election night coverage and as the evening progressed we were able to predict the outcome. By the time I went to sleep, I was disappointed, worried and could not stop thinking about my son. What would I say to him when he awoke in the morning?

The next day, I got up, dressed myself and Leah and walked her to the school bus. Usually Mark wakes Thomas on school mornings so needless to say, he was alarmed when I woke him instead of his father.  The first thing out of his mouth was “Did she win?” I fought back the urge to spew my raw emotions, took a trembling breath and looked him in the eye. He knew the answer to his question before I spoke my first word. Over the next few minutes, I explained to my wide eyed 11 year old what had happened. I watched his tears form and did my best to stay positive and ease his fears. I explained that it was important for us to keep an open mind, be kind and respect the opinions of others. I warned that some of his classmates might be celebrating and some might be sad. We rehearsed different ways he might respond if a peer was sad or happy.  After several minutes of discussion, he got himself ready and headed out the door to face the day. He handled it like a champ. Sure he was disappointed. Sure he was a little bit scared. He made the choice to accept reality and move on with his day. It was as simple as that.

My second lesson in the acceptance of our new reality was several days after the election, Leah and I went to a local Children’s consignment store to shop for a few things. While I shopped, Leah wandered over to the next aisle and began to play with some of the toys that were on display. I could hear her begin a conversation with another little girl. They exchanged names, giggled and starting playing together. I peeked around the corner to get a glimpse to make sure the girls were not making a mess. They sat in the middle of the floor, playing with barbies, completely content. I saw the girl’s mother standing near by and I attempted to catch her eye and smile. She looked at me briefly, without expression and turned away.

I decided to try a little harder so I walked a closer to the mom, whose back was to me and I said, “They are having such a great time together.”

She turned briefly to look at the girls, avoided eye contact with me, and turned away. I was a little puzzled by her reaction but, tried to convince myself that perhaps she is just a shy person. I looked up and saw the cashier watching the interaction. She smiled and I smiled back.

Eventually, the other mother paid for her items at the register and called to her daughter, who was still on the floor playing with Leah. The little girl stood and walked toward her mom. As is customary with my children, I encouraged Leah to say goodbye to the little girl.

“Bye friend. Thanks for playing with me.” Leah said, and the two girls embraced. I smiled at my sweet girl and admired how easy it is for young children to show affection and acceptance of others.

I looked toward the other mother who caught my eye briefly. I smiled once again and just before she turned away from me, I saw that her expression changed and I noticed that she looked sad, or perhaps even despondent. She and her daughter walked out the door and I found myself watching after, deep in my thoughts about our interaction, or the lack thereof.

“Don’t you wish everyone could be as kind and accepting as young children?” The cashier said, interrupting my thoughts.

I turned toward her and she was smiling, one of those smiles that warms the entire room and invites one to strike up a conversation. I walked over to the register and we began to talk. She told me that she had been watching my daughter and the other little girl play together and she was moved to tell me how much it made her feel hopeful and optimistic about the future. I was a little confused at her confession so I asked for clarification.

Let me back up a second. What I did not mention earlier is that the other mother and her daughter were African-American. The cashier was also African-American. I didn’t mention that detail in the beginning of my story because, at the time of the event, I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t think that it mattered that my daughter has white skin and the other little girl has black skin. As far as I was concerned, they were playing and having fun together, so I was content. What I realize now is that when I chose to not pay attention to that important detail, I failed to acknowledge what that mother might have been struggling with at the time.

As the cashier spoke, I listened closely, intensely aware of the color of my skin, self-conscious of my white privilege. At that moment, I realized how important it was for me to shut up and listen. She explained that many African Americans were feeling anger and suspicion and needed time and space to work through those emotions.  I nodded in agreement with her as I fought back tears.  She continued by stating that as an African American woman, she had viewed the world as black and white for far too long. For her, she confessed, it was time to begin looking for the gray.  She paused after she finished speaking and I stood there silently processing her words.

As my throat began to tighten I asked, “Can I give you a hug?” and without hesitation she wrapped her arms around my neck and we embraced. Two strangers, one white, one black, consoling one another while my daughter watched.

I suddenly realized why the tears were falling down my cheeks. I was grieving. I was grieving the loss of something but I was not sure what that something was. Perhaps it was the loss of unity in my country, the loss of pride, the loss of security. Whatever it was I was feeling, I can only imagine what Americans, who are marginalized, were feeling. I said my goodbyes to the cashier and Leah and I headed home.

The other day, Leah asked if she could paint. Being that craft time is one of my least favorite mom activities, I begrudgingly obliged. I took out a paper plate and quickly squeezed a quarter size dollop of each color so that Leah could more easily access the paint. Initially, she took painstaking care to wash her brush when she changed colors.

“That looks great honey. I like how careful you are to not mix the colors.” I said.

Suddenly my precocious six year old, decided it was time to mix things up so she thrust her paintbrush onto the plate and started to mix the dollops of paint into one big messy blob. I stared at the blob of paint and noticed the swirling colors begin to bleed into one another, slowly loosing the original hues, merging and assimilating into 50 shades of gray.

Since those first few days after the election, I have continued to allow space to process my grief.  What makes this country great is the complexities of our diversity.  One can list all of the ethnic and racial descriptions that make up this colorful country but in the end, if you mix all of us into one messy blob, you will notice the swirling colors begin to bleed into one another, slowly loosing the original hue, merging and assimilating into 50 shades of gray. There are no easy solutions to the problems our country is facing but I do know that we need to meet somewhere in the middle. No one can be certain whether the solutions will be charcoal or silver but, I am certain that the solutions cannot be black or white.


3 Replies to “50 Shades of Gray”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s