On the Basis of Color


Painters-palette on Pinterest

A painter's palette with a widespread variety of shades of colors.

By Zayaan Tirmizi, North Allegheny Intermediate High School

Color. Noun. The property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way the object emits light. We are all captivated by the vibrant colors surrounding us, bursting with such beauty and combining with one another to produce an imperfect, yet so perfect, concoction that is our world through sight. Color is something we all feel connected to, with each one igniting passionate feelings deep within our soul, whether it be the hues on a national flag or a picture-perfect sunset.

Yet color, like many things in our sometimes dystopian reality, is rather two-faced. A double-edged sword, if you’d like. Beautiful, certainly. Uniting, undoubtedly. But just as cunning. Just as dividing. Just as much of a catalyst for hatred as it is a vehicle for cohesiveness. 

Perhaps the most prevalent issue where color seems to be such a force for polarization is discrimination within our society against those who were born of a different color than the majority. 

To one day be able to say that Dr. King’s dream has indeed come true would most likely be remembered as the greatest day of our lives, but to say it has come true now is simply naive. Quite the opposite has happened in the 60 years following his tragic death. Not his dream, but rather, his nightmare has roared to life in the form of institutionalized racism and the continuous and relentless torment in attacks on those of color, whether it be black or brown.

There are no words in the English dictionary to capture the evil of racism. Yet that’s not how the racists see it, no. What they see is a disease.”

Indeed, we have come quite a way from Jim Crow Laws, but it seems our national discussion on racism has simply been swept under the daunting rug of white supremacy, of American super-nationalism, never to be spoken of again. He who dares risks even further attacks almost as if he was a blaspheme. 

To say that I can speak on behalf of African Americans and the racism our fellow countrymen have endured in American history is wrong and immoral, but I can certainly testify to my fair share. Multiple times within the past week, even. 

Just about all of us who are a shade darker than the rest have heard the classic insult of “go back to where you came from” or some other derivative of the sort questioning our American identity. I was fed the same platter of racism recently, and throughout my life. That somehow, having parents who weren’t born here changed my identity as an American. That my brown skin was an opaque screen to the racists preventing them from seeing that I truly AM an American. Propagated by the same people who called for Obama’s birth certificate to be brought into the light, simply because the color of his skin didn’t ring true for the values and virtues the racists within our country deem to be American. 

It truly is disgusting. Mortifying. Despicable. There are no words in the English dictionary to capture the evil of racism. Yet that’s not how the racists see it, no. What they see is a disease. An infection spreading that must be contained and cured through the remedial herb of their racist ideology. That may be one more insult of telling someone to stop criticizing an American policy because they’re not American even though they may well be will end it all. 

But that’s not even the most frightening part. The field where the mental game is played by the racists is the real threat. For a while, I felt pretty secure about my identity as a Pakistani-American. But within this school year, the bitter pill of racist remarks and insults I was forced to swallow changed that for me. I realized my naivety took over to lead me to believe that it was impossible for me to experience it from those I knew. 

I started to think about changing, making myself more “Americanized”, the American version that would appease the racists and allow their mentalities to be soothed by forgetting I was indeed brown and Pakistani, too. I started to think, wouldn’t it be easier if I wasn’t brown? If I was born a lighter color? The mental toll it took on me has been shared by people within our community who go through the same and much more.

It continues into ignorance and indifference. To tell people to not talk about their culture because it’s “annoying” or it’s “too much.” For the racists to simply not care and say those of us who utter a word about our culture or anything attributed to it that makes us who we are is “asking for attention.”

How, as a nation, have we failed so many of our brothers and sisters of color, simply based on their skin color? To the point where they question their identity? Where they cannot love themselves for who they are?”

And for some reason, we’ve accepted that for the large part we’ve had to adapt to becoming second-class citizens. We take the insults and we continue to put up with them. We ourselves often give up in the fight. That is the unacceptable piece to this entire puzzle. How, as a nation, have we failed so many of our brothers and sisters of color, simply based on their skin color? To the point where they question their identity? Where they cannot love themselves for who they are?

The reality is, we weren’t born like this. None of us were. This racist mentality is emblazoned into the brains of a select amount of people, giving birth to the next generation and the next, an endless cycle that refuses to be fixed because of blatant ignorance within the chain to wake up and smell the roses of our childhood innocence that knew color was in no way, shape, or form a platform to base a hierarchy off of. Mindsets are near impossible to change once they’ve been created. But what we can do is to prevent them from being passed on. 

It is absolutely imperative for all of us to combat racism in all of its ugliest forms, even down to the smallest derogatory insults. The fact of the matter is, no people can truly reach their potential when divided. All of the greatest empires in history, the great leaders, have succeeded by latching onto a uniting force for all. 

So why not let ours be color? For us to embrace our difference in color and learn to coexist with one another? The sharpening of the blade of racism has only been exacerbated by the stone composed of racists, and yes, even the bystanders. The only way we can emerge victoriously is to mitigate it and extinguish it in all walks of life, even if it comes from friends, family, or others you may love. 

Because we mustn’t forget, in all its potential for ugliness, what a breathtaking beauty color can become with the right painter and canvas. By actively standing up for anyone you may see suffering from racism, by choosing to be “woke”, choosing to break the cycle of ignorance, can we truly escape from the shackles of racism and choose to unite a nation on the basis of color.

This story was originally published on NA Eye on April 1, 2020.