Photography exhibit displays shades of humanity

Angelica Dass has an exhibit on display this summer in Houston at The Health Museum called Humanae: Work in Progress.

I had the privilege to interview her earlier this month while the exhibit was being installed. It’s a collection of 250 head and shoulder photographs of people of all different skin tones and races. The background of each photo is a Pantone color matched to their skin color. The purpose of the photography project is to show that we are more alike than our skin color would indicate. When you look at humans across the color spectrum you begin to appreciate that pigmentation – something that has divided mankind for centuries – actually makes us more alike than dissimilar.

She made the comment that although she is considered black her skin color is brown. I am white, but my skin color can range from a pale tan to a deep reddish brown depending on how much sun I get. One of the points of Dass’s project is that we define ourselves by five basic colors – red, yellow, black, white and brown – but we are all proverbial shades of gray.

Despite our color, all humans have an innate need to love and be loved. We all have the desire to succeed in life and live comfortably. We all want peace and prosperity.

When astronauts went to the moon, the biggest thing they discovered was the Earth. They learned that all life as we know it exists in a thin sliver of atmosphere around this small planet in a remote area of our galaxy. This is all we have. It’s all we get. It is up to all human beings to share and care for this world or we will be left with nothing.

Unfortunately, humans are cruel, selfish beings who don’t like to share. We consume, segregate and dominate to our own detriment. The love, peace and prosperity that we all desire are born out of selfishness. We want them for ourselves and not necessarily for others. It’s why mankind has a history of wars, holocausts, slavery and even the division of the land and seas into geopolitical regions, countries and states.

If you take an overly simplistic view of the history of the United States, white men arrived here, cut bonds with their homeland, imported and enslaved the black man, nearly eradicated the native red man, and battled and bartered with the brown man for what he could not take. We had to fight a bloody war to free the black man, only to segregate him. Now we want to build a wall to keep the brown man out.

Like I said, that is overly simplistic and it uses the colors that Dass is working so hard to eliminate from our discourse on humanity, but it makes the point that historically we see ourselves as beings of color and not different shades of the same beings.

Color, of course, is the most obvious thing that we see that separates us. Genetics, ethnicity, religion and language obviously play a factor. As much as we are alike, we are also different. It is our unwillingness to accept our differences that leads to so much hate, distrust and warfare. This is how we get the Adolph Hitlers, Pol Pots and Osama bin Ladens of this world.

Here in Fort Bend County, we are part of one of the most diverse communities in the world. We have a very healthy mix of races, nationalities, ethnicities, colors, etc. Although this is still far from being a racial utopia, we are leaders in this country and set the example for tolerance.

That being said, I still live cautiously in this mix. I am a white, conservative, Christian, American male and that makes me the prime target for so much hate in society. Historically, we see ourselves as the hero in the white hat or red cape who swoops in to fight evil and serve as the world’s police. We built the greatest country and the greatest economy the world has ever known. Regretfully, some would say we did so by perpetrating the greatest genocide in history and by oppressing minorities and women. While it’s hard to argue with that, it does continue today, not by whites in America but by Arabs in the Middle East, blacks in Africa and dictators in South America and Asia.

As an individual, there is little I can do to change racial perceptions. As the editor of the Fort Bend Star I try very carefully to avoid publicizing things of a racist nature. That can be a very difficult task. I usually apply what I call the White Litmus Test. If someone sends me a press release saying they belong to black this, Hispanic that or Asian the other thing, I substitute white in place of the ethnicity. If being a member of a white organization would create an outcry of racism then the same applies for any other race.

For example, one of our state legislators was recently elected to a position with the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. I’m sure that’s a high honor and a big deal. If a legislator had been elected to a position with the Texas Legislative White Caucus, however, there would have been no end to the howls of protestation. Therefore, it didn’t run.

One of the grayer areas I struggle with is cultural festivals and holidays. Everything from St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo to Chinese New Year, Oktoberfest and even Mardi Gras has the potential to carry racial overtones. I embrace these much more because of their inclusive, celebratory nature. They help us to understand and appreciate different cultures. We need more of that.

I highly doubt we will see the end of racism for generations, if ever. That doesn’t mean we should quit striving for it. I have discovered that some of my best and closest friends have skin color very different from mine. I’m fine with that. In fact, I embrace it. We are all made in the image of God no matter what color we are. That is a beautiful thing and probably the most profound takeaway for me after meeting Dass and seeing her exhibit at The Health Museum.

I encourage you to make a visit and check it out for yourself. Then please share your thoughts with us.

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