“Like an angel that shed the heaviness of an earthly body, the blindfold removed, I rise and see only one thing, answer to one thing… His face.”― Debra Harris Johnson
Debra Johnson, Keynote Speaker & Freelance Writer – Back in the day, I was called “mixed,” a term meaning different races and or heritage. Can you imagine what that was like growing up in the ’50s and ’60s in the south? I am black, white, French, Native American. Never belonging to any one race or heritage wreaked havoc and confusion on my spirit, in my mind and touched my soul.
The black and white images from our television always filled me with questions about who I was, and horror as to what would happen to me.
Native Americans served an integral role in popular Western shows and movies. Most Westerns, unfortunately, depicted Indians as the “bad” guys, enemies to a civilized life; savages without a soul. What was just entertainment to most became a brainwashing that diminished self-worth in a lot of vulnerable non-white children.
The sixties heralded in new kinds of images that frightened me in a different way. It was the civil rights era, the brutalization of young people attacked by snarling angry dogs fed the news cycle. Every night, there was a different image – a different nightmare. Lynchings, bombings, and beatings infiltrated my mind – and I wished that part of me, the black part, could vanish away and I could feel safe. At least I prayed so nightly.
Nothing planted the self-hatred seed worse than the segregation so vividly broadcasted, the way the television did. There were none, absolutely no minorities on TV. There were minor exceptions as I became older – a glimpse of an African American entertainer here and there but nothing substantial. Commercials only used white actors and actresses.
So how did I turn all those millions of negative images into positive pictures? I attended college and met my first Native American sister. Sandra Blackbear and I became fast friends and one weekend she invited me to my first Pow Wow in Oklahoma. I hadn’t seen that on television. Something amazing happened. I totally blended in. As long as that southern drawl stayed put, and I kept my mouth shut, I was just another face. It felt better than good, it felt natural.
For the first time, I decided to explore my diversity. A couple of years after my Pow Wow experience I dyed my hair platinum blonde and donned green contacts. Another discovery ensued. I could go unnoticed in the white race, even if some took a second glance at me. What exactly is race then? I began to wonder if someone like me could morph in and out of a race why is it important? How could television portray the definitive role of such undefined characteristics as ethnicity? The propaganda is a double-edged sword. Some stories stereotype a race or ethnic group, as bad, while simultaneously, send out messages that exalt other races. Both are lies. There are good and bad people period! It has absolutely nothing to do with race.
I am now sixty-six years old and I’ve walked in many countries with ALL peoples of the world and I blend in. I caught my reflection in a pool of water in Abu Dhabi and I knelt down to touch the headscarf-wrapped image. From my touch, a number of ripples came forth. It reminded me how each of us is many people in one person.
I believe everyone who sees one sun in the day, and one moon at night, are ALL the same humanity. I believe we must band together to demand decency in entertainment, especially movies and music. If it tears down a person’s gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion it’s not a “freedom,” it’s an incitement to violate humanity. I believe we can channel positive energy worldwide if we just stand up to hate. I believe peace can be obtained in this lifetime through truths, ideas, manifested by words, theater, media, performance, and music. I believe in the eradication of boxes that ask: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, for we are ALL “other.”
We must do this for ourselves, for the children for the earth….for humanity.
“Color may sometimes be optional; humanity is not.”
Debra Harris Johnson
11 thoughts on “Blended.”
Beautiful testimony of how to turn, as you phrase it, negativity into positivity. The only race there is is the human race, and the color of the costume aka skin that wraps our souls is just for us to experience a different role in life’s beautiful ‘drama’. I do believe as well in the power of stories, through any kind of media that can reach people’s hearts and minds, to bring positive changes in the protrayal of ALL our humanity in its beautiful diversity. Sharing a link here (not at all for ‘self-promotion’ of any kind, but in case you’re interested in the topic) about my study of the evolution of the portrayal of Native Americans in French-speaking comics. Things do change and evolve, and they make this world a better place. Thank you for your wonderful story. https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1123&context=fll_etds
Debra – beautiful.
Thank you for the link, once again you have overwhelmed me. I read it twice and have come to the conclusion that the holy spirit was speaking through you. Seriously, it gave me chills. It was like you had a clear vision of what is written in Ephesians about being of one body, one spirit, just as we were called to one hope. Keep doing what you are called to do. Your works are very inspiring.
Love you sis
Debra Johnson has once again synergized multiple disciplines, preconceptions, intrapersonal interactions into positive perspectives that inevitably will generate a very elegant and powerful impact on the lives of an astronomical amount of people!
Deb, this is not only beautiful and profound. You spoke to and for all of us. Your writing is excellent and very articulate. Love you and thanks for sharing 🥰
It is sad that during this day in time we are still having this discussion and little children are still grappling with these emotions. I hope that as more people speak their truths, the more we will draw together as one humanity without needs to check boxes. Excellent article.
Your article is so true I live that experience with you I remember having them same feeling. Thank God we overcame those years. love you
This is an excellent article and profoundly true. Thanks for being so transparent; many people can take heed and heal from your story.
📚” DJ “…
I humbly embrace the honorable
mention; Thank You for the Shout Out!
📚 Sis… [Great Company]…
I paraphrase… However, Profound…
” I believe all that see the same Sun in the day and the Moon in the same night; are all of the same Humanity “…
Yes… Inalienable Rights, Natural Rights are the Rights of Every Child, Woman, and Man… “Human Beings”…
I also remember frequently being asked what are you… Frequently, often my response was I’m a Human Being, I’m a Man, A Child of God /of the Universe… No, No, what’s your race? (Reply)… Human Race!!!
” Servant Leader “…
Probably the best written blog post written in the subject. My friend you nailed it. As I was reading it I found myself thanking God that I’m alive at this time in civilization to see the world coming together quicker than ever in just one generation. Im blessed to know you and call you my friend. Love this and sent your way!! 🙏🏻❤️👩🏻🍳
Beautiful. Very inclusive and wonderful..