Friday, March 20, 2015

Red Skin

Earlier this week Jana loaded me into her SUV and hauled me off to the Durango dermatologist. “You are getting the blue light treatment”, she informed me a few days prior to our scheduled departure. The only blue light I had previously known was at K-Mart, so her comment intrigued me. “Maybe I was being put on special”, I thought, “who knows here this might lead. As Jana is aware, I am always up for the next grand adventure, so off we went.

As it turns out, blue light treatment involves using special drugs and intense light to treat pre-cancerous skin cells. Photosensitizing agents are applied to your face, and after about an hour the drugs are activated using strong lights. The mutant cells don’t have a chance. Because her skin is fair, Jana has had many similar therapies. Since I have darker skin, however, this was my maiden voyage. When the dermatologist finally released us late in the afternoon, we were cautioned to avoid direct exposure to the sun for 48 hours and given sunscreen and disposable hats to fend off harmful rays.

Looking into the rearview mirror as we exited the parking lot, I was astonished to see how fiery red my face had become and was reminded of something I read during my stint in Northern California during the 1980s. A middle-aged white man living in Texas, who wanted to experience life as an African-American wrote the book, entitled Black Like Me, in 1961. To do so, he took the radical step of undergoing medical treatment to temporarily change his physical appearance. It worked, and his life as a black man began.

Having spent several months on the opposite side of the color divide, the author untimely concluded conditions for Southern blacks were appalling, their communities mostly dilapidated and their populations defeated. In time he even noticed a look of hopelessness had became affixed to his own face. After many interviews about his experiences, to protect his family from angry threats directed toward them, he was forced to leave his childhood home. Before he moved, fearing there would be an explosion of violence if nothing were done, he issued a plea for tolerance and understanding between the races. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was not that I expected to have my own Black Like Me experience after seeing my brightly colored face. Instead, I was reminded how interesting and enjoyable it is to be with the staff of Twin Rocks, most of whom are Native. Indeed, I have often marveled at the friendly, informative conversations I have had with them. Sure, I often blunder into areas that might be uncomfortable if we didn’t respect and care deeply for each other as individuals. In this process, however, I have learned a great deal about Native American and Navajo culture, race relations and just plain old human nature. In the end I have concluded that skin color does not define an individual, it is character that matters.

When I got back to the office the next day, I was, however, reminded how unkind people can be, and how they at times use racism as a tool to further their own personal agendas. In an Internet review of Twin Rocks Cafe on the web site, a writer posted, “Here’s the best part: it’s owned by rich white people from out of state and they hire strictly navajo natives to serve and cook their ‘authentic’ southwest cuisine. If you like . . . being exposed to active racism, come check them out.” Needless to say, I was furious with this person’s intentional ignorance. Not just because it was blatantly false and an insult to Barry and me, but because it was also a slap in the face to all the people who make their living working along side us.

Once again, I was reminded of the funny, talented, independent people who frequent or work at Twin Rocks Trading Post and Twin Rocks Cafe. Apparently this reviewer did not believe they had enough education, training or self-worth to direct their own lives. Instead, she wanted to believe, and wanted the public to believe as well, they were slaves to the, “white people” who exploit them at every turn.

At times like these, I am reminded of a Maya Angelou saying that goes something like this, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” No matter what our skin tone, temporary or permanent, we should strive to raise each other up, to make each other happier and to support each other. Racism and active, intentional ignorance should have no place in our lives.

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

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