As a painter in oils I use burnt umber, titanium white, French ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow and cadmium red to represent human flesh. I hope you noticed I didn’t specify what kind of human flesh. It makes no difference whether the subject is black, white or brown. Those are the colors I use, just those five.
It might further interest you to know that those five are the only colors I use — for everything. In other words, everything in the natural world that can be painted can be painted using those five colors. That ought to give you an idea of how little Nature herself thinks of hue. Artists with palettes ranging across twenty-five different kinds of tubes obviously didn’t get Nature’s memo that she just isn’t all that fussy about color. Then why are we?
Martin Luther King dreamed of the day that his four children would be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I think he would be surprised to learn how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t come in the 57 years since he said that. I think he’d be surprised, for example, that forty five years after he said it, America elected its first black president. Then he’d be surprised anew to learn that eight years after that America elected its first openly racist monster. When discussing American history Kurt Vonnegut put it this way: “Color was everything.” And it still is.
Martin Luther King’s central message was that peaceful protest was the way forward to equality, but the notion that we are all the same on the inside was the guiding principle of that forward movement. I believe if he were alive today — a not absurd proposition, he was three years younger than Elizabeth II — he would still think that way. It appears that the world agrees with him. The vast majority of protests of the murder of George Floyd across the world are peaceful. On Sunday in central England’s Wolverhampton West Park, for example, protesters fell silent and knelt for eight minutes and 46 seconds to represent the time prosecutors said the police officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Most of the violence, when violence is to be found, is committed by the police.
Donald Trump needs the protests to be violent so he can dismiss the demonstrations as insurrections and the demonstrators as thugs, employ brutal, militaristic repression and create a climate of division. Trump is trying to find a way to cynically manipulate this tragedy to his advantage so he can get re-elected. Power is all Trump and his pirate ship of goons understand. Therefore, never before has the peaceful way of Martin Luther King been more clearly the correct one. Great wisdom usually has the advantage of being timeless.
Barack Obama had to be an exemplary human being to be elected president. He was a black man, so not only did he have to graduate top of his class at Columbia and Harvard, he had to be a model family man and a tireless advocate for the American people. Donald Trump proved that it’s possible for any white man to become president, even a huckster, a game show host, a phoney, a child-raping thief, as long as he’s rich and famous and above all— white.
We are a long way away from the ideal dreamed of by Martin Luther King. But the road ahead that he paved, the way of peace, remains the correct one. It’s possible that no one reading these words will live to see that day, the day when we are all judged, not by the color of our skin, but by the quality of our character. That day will come sooner if we all unite to repudiate Donald Trump and remove him from office in November. Four more years of Trump would be disastrous for the cause of racial justice and the dream of Martin Luther King. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.