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It's not always black and white.

When I arrived in Oregon eight years ago, it was an adjustment.

We are from New York.

End of post.


I noticed, and wasn't afraid to ask:

"Where are all the black people?".

Now asking a question like this came from an honest and innocent place inside me. And it also might be offensive to some. I understand the implications yet I'm still sharing this story because what followed was pretty impactful for me.

New York is a port where peoples from all nations arrived to make a better life. They brought with them sadness for families left behind, excitement for new beginnings, and culture, food and language. Like folks who traveled to this West side of the country to explore new frontiers, there are new beginnings. Different experiences of it, but still important to note a similar story of leaving the nest for something better.

New York is very different than Oregon because of the diversity of the influx of different cultures who arrived, and as a result it has so much diversity you sometimes don't even notice it. In Oregon you notice it because the fact is there just hasn't been the diversity of cultures here. I judged you, Oregon, even though you were just being you. I really am sorry.

In New York, diversity is in the languages and smells of foods; it's sewn into the fabric of the place and when the color is absent from a place, you notice. Well, I noticed.

But after some time I didn't like the fact that I was noticing the absence of color here in Portland. I didn't like that I was asking the question "Where are all the black people?" I started to wonder if I was being a racist. I wasn't judging or hating like a "real" racist, but I was noticing and I wondered if that put me on the racist-spectrum. I was seeing me and them and that's a no-no, no?

I'm actually grateful that I worry about everything I feel, do or say because if I didn't worry, I wouldn't grow. #jewishjustification

So in recent years, I made a conscious switch. I didn't want to make a statement any longer of what was missing from my new homeland of Oregon. I wanted to see people, not first see the thing that made us different. Mid-life was calling me to love myself and other people more deeply. I wanted a deeper experience of togetherness.

So I went with it.

Every time I saw black skin color, I noticed the skin color and promptly after the noticing I said to myself "look at that man" or "love those shoes" etc etc. To my surprise and very shortly afterwards did lines of differences begin to blur and dissolve.

I felt good, I felt fluid, I felt floaty and I felt free.

Aaaaaaand, here are a few things I learned:

1. It's not an easy task to NOT notice our differences. I believe we humans learn to notice differences and it can actually be a good thing; When we see that we all come from different places, we can grow to understand others and learn empathy, and lots of things about different cultures and ways of life, as well as growing more deeply into our selves. I think it can be dangerous to skim over the obvious, proclaim "we are all One!" and deny us the opportunity to embrace the differences we have.

2. Skin color isn't a trivial difference, I mean, I could quickly notice and then switch to naming something else about the person, something that isn't the difference in our skin color. But our skin-color-spectrum is an indicator of where our ancestors came from. This is important to me, being from New York, the place where everyone came from somewhere else and that made life interesting and colorful. I do understand, though, that so many folks have not had the experience I had, and especially as far West as Oregon. But I wonder if, in Liberal places without so much cultural diversity, that there is actually a disservice being done by skipping right to the "We are all One!" instead of noticing how we are different? It's tricky I think.

3. This has helped me on my own personal path to accepting who I am, too, without judgment, and accepting Oregon for not being New York. It also helped me realize how integral it is for me to bring my whole self, ethnicity, color and crazy to the world, and how integral it is for me to live in an environment that embraces the same. And maybe, it might be OK for me to see a person of color and say "what a beautiful, black gal!" just like someone might say about me "what a beautiful, white Jewish gal!".

Or something.

But you get what I'm saying?

Who made the rules anyhow? How do you know what's the right way to be, or think, or feel?

We can all find a whole host of reasons to be offended by a variety of things in today's world. But what if for a moment we allowed ourselves to just be who we are, without worrying that we've made a mistake, or hurt someone, or said the wrong thing.

(Right about now, some of you might be thinking I'm using my White Privilege Mileage Points card. My grandparents left Eastern Europe for America because they were killing us Jews so stop it please.)

When I moved west, I saw too much black and white, but I'm embracing the rainbow I am now and seeing the differences between you and me as another opportunity to learn more about you, and about me. Striking a balance however and whenever I can. So there's the rainbow, and the black, and the white, and the gray. All of it.

I'm gonna be fierce, and bold. I'm gonna be me. I can't censor every little thing about me because then that would defeat the purpose of me being me. But please tell me if I've offended you but also explain to me why so I can learn more about you, and so that I might not hurt you or others in the future.

The canvas is blank and I know it's up to me and the brotherhood of society to paint our diverse palette into view. We may be One, from a spiritual perspective, but we are also human and our humanness makes us Amazing. We are one big portrait with each individual stroke a color or an absence of color, each as important as the other.

Poetry aside, I've also come to learn that many experiences and situations in life are not always black and white, and yet, sometimes they are. I can just continue to strive to be present, and open, and honest and humbled - and to feel like I did earlier:

Good, fluid, floaty and free.

Sharing this post was a good place to start. Onward and Upward!

btw, New York does have the best black and white cookies, just sayin'. #generallyspeakingitallcomesdowntofood


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