Last night, my wife & I had the privilege of watching the incomparable Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, 72 years strong, perform an incredible concert. Her opening act was comedian Jonathan Slocumb, whose job was to pump up the crowd for Aretha. In honoring the Queen of Soul, Slocumb reminded the Wisconsin State Fair crowd, which came from all walks of life, as depicted here, that “Soul has no Color.”
The comedian’s profound statement, which he based on one’s soul being internal, and therefore not based on skin color, reminded me of my 9th grade Social Studies teacher, who happened to be an African-American teacher in a high school filled with mostly Jewish students. When it came time for her to teach the section on race, she started by saying that she hated teaching that topic and though she would follow the curriculum by teaching us about the then current definitions of Caucasoid, Negroid, & Mongoloid so-called “races,” she wanted us to understand that she believed there was only one race: the human race. For many years after that profound and unforgettable lesson, whenever I had to fill out forms to identify my race, I checked the “other” box and filled in the blank, “human.”
Needless to say, race and racism are complex issues, often encumbered by ever shifting definitions of race. Prior to Loving v. Virginia, when the Supreme Court struck down anti-interracial marriage laws in 1967, as unconstitutional, many states defined race (particularly African-Americans) by percentage and these definitions varied from state to state. Indeed, the landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Supreme Court established the concept of “separate but equal,” was based on Louisiana’s definition of a “black” man which included Homer Plessy who was classified as an “octoroon” since his ancestry was 1/8 black, and therefore he was forbidden to sit in the “whites-only” section of the train.
More recently, one must wonder why there was so little outrage when the data was recently released revealing that the life span gap between whites and blacks, while narrowing nationwide, increased significantly in Wisconsin. As the City of Milwaukee’s Medical Director aptly put it,
What you have here in Wisconsin is an environment which is not healthy for children of color, and this is the main driver of differences in life expectancy.
Thus, while there are certainly racial disparities all over the place, many of which are abhorrent, and must be addressed through systems change, I yearn for the day when we can look beyond the color as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it so well,
I have a dream that my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Because, soul has no color.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.