Race: The Invisible Rainbow

Loren Escandon – Actress, Writer, Theater Producer & Volunteer at the History Colorado Center

The first time someone was curious about my skin color, I was 4. It was in kindergarten when I got approached with the question, and my answer was, “I am grey.”

Living in a household with a white father and a black mother helped me jump to the conclusion that grey was, without a doubt, my race. I wish things were that easy from there on.

A long conversation with my parents came after that, where it was explained to me that I was in fact a Mulata. Growing up I felt more black than white and every time, without exception, that I manifested my feelings, people would rush to correct me, “No, mija, you are too light to call yourself black,” or “No, mija, you are too dark to call yourself white.” So they, again without exception, would try to make me feel better by saying, “No, mija, you are a ‘Cafe con leche.’”

The circumstances never got better, especially living in my native Colombia, where people have been brainwashed in believing we are a white society. However, I kept identifying passionately with my black roots. I blamed Colombia for not wanting to have an honest conversation about race, racism and equality of opportunities. When I moved to the United States I had the hope things would be different.
Here, in the US, it was not worse, definitely not better, but different. I became part of a big bag of multiple cultures, religions, beliefs and races called Latinos. I was lectured the first time I identified myself as mulata, because it was “politically incorrect” to say the word. People throw bad jokes at me when I identified as Colombian and I refused to be labeled as Latina.

racehandstarMany years passed by before I moved to Denver, Colorado, but after being here, not too long passed before people made comments about my accent or my skin color, or simply ignored my presence. It did not take too long for me to realize this is a state where diversity is just statistics that human resource officials brag about, talking about the percentages of different races or demographic groups that live in the state. It did not take too long to notice that race and racism is not a conversation the population of Denver and Colorado wants to have. “This is not a racist place, we have an African American mayor,” I heard someone saying once. Like that proves something.

We, as a country, have been victimized from the beginning of history. Since the moment our founding father Mr.Thomas Jefferson used the phrased “All men are created equal” in the US Declaration of Independence, while having himself hundreds of slaves in his plantations. The bed of hypocrisy, confusion and racism was set then and today that bed still persists.

Racism is not going away, colorblindness will not end racism. Pretending race does not exist is not the same as creating equality. Race is more than stereotypes and individual prejudice that we all have. To combat racism, we need to identify and remedy social policies that advantage some groups at the expense of others. We need to understand that humans have not been around long enough, nor have populations been isolated enough, to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite the surface differences, we are among the most similar of all species.

I work at the History Colorado Center and I am thrilled with our new exhibit. RACE: Are We So Different? is a one-of-a-kind exhibit that will help people understand our differences and similarities, our backgrounds, our prejudices and our minimal psychological and genetic variations. This is an exhibit that might help us, Coloradans, feel motivated to start this very much-needed conversation. It did for me.