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“If I see everything in gray, and in gray all the colors which I experience and which I would like to reproduce, then why should I use any other color?” ~Alberto Giacomettii

I often like to think of things as black and white, as if things are clear when they’re not. I often like to imagine there are two roads that diverge and that I have to pick one path. Anything else is just too convoluted for my brain to process. But that’s not how the world works. Things aren’t always black and white. In fact, things are rarely black and white. This world operates in shades of gray that are many and varied.

When I was a kid I remember my dad telling me the world was what I made of it, and I recall thinking that just didn’t sound right. For one, I noticed the world was moving on regardless of me, despite what I did to make it stop so I could examine it closely with my magnifying glass. For another, I saw that there were bad things in the world that kept on happening even though I wished it some other way. The world wasn’t what I made of it, any more than an ant disturbing an anthill. I could make my paths in it, but the dirt would eventually fill in again in my wake.

I don’t even remember when I met my first white person, but I do recall thinking their skin wasn’t as flawless as I thought it would be. They weren’t perfect reflections of the driven snow, and neither was I so different from them. Not really. Not where it really counted. And yet there was that division, as if we were indeed diametrically opposed just by sheer force of nature. I remember thinking then that I must be missing something, that I had been led astray by word of mouth, by overwhelming acceptance of a truth that wasn’t true. When I asked about it, my dad told me that’s what he meant when he said the world was what I made of it, that I had to see with my own eyes instead of believing the collective consciousness of others.

I haven’t learned much from my dad in my life, I’ll admit, but that is one that has stuck with me over these 40 years of life. The idea of seeing things with my own eyes before making up my mind, the thought that not everything is as plain as others make it out to be, that is priceless. Of course back then I didn’t see it. My adolescent brain went the complete opposite way, instead making things black instead of the pristine white I had thought it all fit into previously. To me what he meant was that the tiny sliver of the world I had seen was the way the world was. It wasn’t until much later that I realized he meant instead that I shouldn’t judge just based on my limited world view. That I should add to that world view, that I should make it individual, that I should keep adjusting my view based on each and every situation.

Or maybe he didn’t mean that at all. I’ve never really asked him about it. Perhaps he meant something entirely different, that he wanted me simply to not be so pompous about my own ideas. But I like to think he was warning me about compartmentalizing, about placing things in little boxes and thinking they would stay there for all time, letting them decay in places where they didn’t belong. And I took black and white literally back then anyway, trying to piece together my understanding of the world through the lens of the racial divide. Maybe that’s why it took me so much longer to see that it had nothing to do with race, that it had to do with me instead.

0a3cacdad4c3ef943382ee737e9230f4Seeing the world in shades of gray means allowing for that variance that inadvertently yet overwhelmingly permeates the world, for that trick of the light that changes light gray to dark in the blink of an eye. It means consciously considering that what I see now doesn’t always have to stay the same. It means not making up my mind arbitrarily but taking everything into account when considering anything. And it does fit in with my ideas of white people that have shifted dramatically since that first encounter so many years ago. Because it’s not about white people at all, not about good vs. evil in the least. It’s about looking at everything individually, at not judging at all, because judging means preconceived notions and prejudice.

And that goes for everything in life. It’s why I often have friends who aren’t “socially acceptable,” why I do what I enjoy even when I know it makes me look silly, because life is short, and to paint it in black and white just never does it justice. I try my best to see things in shades of gray because I hope others see me in similar shades. I try my best to see things in shades of gray because I think I finally understand what that means.

Sam

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