“What’s your favorite color?” we ask. Little girls on the playground. Middle school, around the lunch table, filling out a who’s who book we purchased from the Weekly Reader. Later on, picking out clothes, choosing swatches for wedding details, paint for a wall. Most of the time, the faces around me, the people I’m asking, the people asking me—they look like me. White folks.
It’s not an indictment on myself, on my school, on my experience. It’s just a true thing. My personal narrative spills over with color in all kinds of ways. Rich, detailed gradient canvas of the farm lands of my grandparents, greens and golds and browns stretching out to meet the changing blues and greys of Ohio Valley skies. Brilliant red cardinals flitting from tree to tree, standing out most stark against a frosted pine. Yellow bus rumbling down the road to pick me up for school. Blue Wolves, Wildcats, and more Wildcats. And it’s not as if none of my memory reels include people of color; it’s simply that they are not included in the bulk of my history.
My restless hand holds a blue and silver pen. As if the writing instrument itself stutters, my grip tightens and fights the hesitance to let any reflections spill onto this page. It becomes tricky in these days; everything means offense, it is said. I don’t mean offense, but I have to sit still with myself, my history, my thoughts, my heart. I believe I have to sit in the discomfort of it, engage the work of understanding the Image of God in color.
We sang Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. I believed it. I pictured the white Jesus from the paintings and framed prints all over the place loving me and all manner of children of every skin color. I confess that it never occurred to me to see Jesus as a brown man, a Jewish, Middle Eastern, Palestinian brown man. If I am more revealing in my confession, only in the last ten years of my life (when I went to school for the third time through homeschool) did it ever occur to me that red and yellow and black and brown children could see, or would long to see, Jesus any other way than white.
Twice in recent months, I heard my friends say, “I don’t get to take off my skin. I am always in a brown body.” Tears choked back while they tell me. They weren’t raging mad. They were sad, and tired in their core, they said. Not sad about their identity or their heritage, not tired from the actuality of being a person of color. Sad, because we are all still here like this. Tired, because, well, we are all still here like this. And I sat there, and I ached with my friends, and I felt my own whiteness in a way I had not known before. I touched my skin, and I knew it was more than a box I check on paperwork, knew that I wanted and needed to deal with my own heritage and my own color.
All I know is what I have context for, what history I was taught, what history I have lived thus far. Until I listen, until I learn, until I let myself see color. That beige isn’t everyone’s nude, that white isn’t a nationality, that my own lineage has different ethnicities, too. And I must let the reality sink in that my biases extend beyond skin color anyway, that they reach people who smell bad, who walk the streets, who hold up cardboard signs. My biases shape my thoughts about the people I follow into church buildings.
The answer to the question is purple. Purple has been my favorite color since I could hold a box of Crayola crayons. It’s that fusion of blue and red on the color wheel. I know I’m not standing here by myself, but I’m scared sometimes hanging out here where you might think I’m too liberal, and you might think I’m too conservative. I’m sad and ashamed that I’m afraid. But I’m here, and if you’re here, too, let me know. If you’re not here, I’m inviting you, to move past red and blue, past white. It’s not easy here, because the Gospel plow means work. The Kingdom of God isn’t about the great beyond or about savoring the sweet by and by. It is a now reality. I’ll set the table for us, and we’ll dig into this together.