It’s Fall. Its colors beautify the landscape.
Just the other day, I walked from the house to my studio. A thick autumn mist had formed around the house. The marigolds had been in bloom in front of the studio, but the mums now joined them; the panoply of colors glowed in the ambient light the mist cast. I could not imagine that even if sunlight had shown directly on the flowers they would have appeared any more radiant than they did that morning in the mist.
I’m feeling good about the post-election world. It’s beautified our political landscape with some much-needed color.
Americans, sadly, don’t have a history of being color-friendly, or working well with colors at all. Separate and unequal has been the name of the racial game. Artists who work regularly with color, know that red, blue and yellow are primary colors; all other colors are variations thereof. For many Americans, there’s just one primary color: white. You are, or you are not. For many Americans, I suppose this view simplifies matters, but it severely limits possibilities.
I was moved to learn that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the election as the next President and Vice President. I saw it as one more manifestation of America’s cultural evolution, like the election of Barak Obama. This present election will be the second time in America’s history that the executive branch will consist of persons of color, and the first time that both a white man and bi-racial woman would be elected to the office. This bodes well for the future of the country at a time when it is struggling to come to terms with the lingering vestiges of its long history of racial and gender oppression.
When I look back on my life I’m embarrassed by how naive I’d been in racial matters. I’m also amused by how I lived the first eighteen years of my life, sublimely confident that I was not racially prejudiced. Why? Because race never came up in family discussions. I knew only one black family and no Asians at all. My blithe unawareness of the real world only confirmed for me the magnanimous nature that I believed I possessed.
My neighborhood was solidly middle-class and white. Growing up, I knew only one Black family. The DeHarts were members of my all white church, and the only African Americans I’d ever met. I recall there were four children. Two were slightly older than I was. I liked them, but had only a distant relationship to them. I remember nothing about them except that they were always very well dressed. I was never in their home, neither were they in mine. I accepted them as a part of my childhood circumstances, but they played no part in my life. Only years later when I grew curious about my own racial attitudes did I look deeper. The two younger DeHart kids were of an age to have been naturally involved in the Young People’s Fellowship which most kids in the parish attended. The DeHarts never participated. What was that about, I’ve wondered? I will never know for sure.
It occurred to me one day, well on the far side of my middle age, that my mother’s ancestral family were DeHarts. In doing family research, I learned more about the DeHart family. In the middle of the eighteenth century they were landowners and had a large farm on Staten Island’s North Shore, not far from where I grew up. They reputedly hosted George Washington once on his way from Jersey to Long Island. “I don’t suppose,” I wondered to myself, “that I’m kin to the DeHarts from my church?” Slavery was practiced in New York. The thought intrigued me. It was one of those moments when I wished I could go back in time and talk about it with them. It’s a compelling feeling, like a moment rife with possibilities that slipped through my fingers and was lost forever.
Black with white can enhance the beauty of the other. I know this from seeing how Habitat for Humanity brings black and white men, women, and children together to build houses and befriend one another as they do it. I’ve seen how Talbot Mentors has created intimate bonds between blacks and whites in the service it provides to support at risk children.
I have also been an avid black-and-white photographer for seventy-five years. I love the medium; even the messy, smelly chemical process by which the photographs are created. Ansel Adams once decried black and white photographs that had tepid shadows and weak highlights, looking, as he put it, like “soot and chalk.” His point: the importance that shadows and highlights have in creating contrasts needed for making strong and enduring images. Truth be told, by virtue of light, our world everywhere is a total mix of shadows and highlights accented by colors.
When I drive from home to Easton I must go through St. Michael’s. Approaching the town, Perry Cabin is on the left and on the right, there’s a basketball court where local kids come to play. It’s been heartening over these 30 years I’ve been here to see more white and Black kids playing together. I remember years ago seeing only Blacks. The sight leaves me hopeful for our future and for its possibilities.
Erratum: We’ve had a more colorful history than I realized. I learned only this morning reading the Washington Post that Kamala Harris “is not the first multiracial vice president or the first one of color. That distinction belongs to Charles Curtis, who served as vice president to Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933. Curtis’s mother was a Native American.”
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.