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Different Color Crayons

Hi, I’m Marcy McKay from Amarillo, author of Amazon’s #1 Hot New Release, When Life Feels Like a House Fire: Transforming Your Stress. I’m excited to be a Radio Reader for High Plains Public Radio’s Book Club. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver tells about Nathan Price, a 1950’s preacher who drags his wife and four daughters from Georgia to save the wicked souls in the Congolese jungle of Africa. It’s a powerful novel about politics, religion, sin, redemption and everything that makes for a great story.

The tribesman that Pastor Price is hell-bent on leading to Jesus are  with their multiple gods, and their multiple wives. They’re also fine being dirt poor because it’s the only life they’ve ever known. Ignorance is bliss because they’ve fared alright. Nobody had much of anything, yet when someone was in a crisis, everyone gave a little extra from the little that they had.

They acted like their brother’s keeper. That sounds a lot like what Jesus Christ preaches about in the Bible. Loving your neighbor as yourself. Still, that wasn’t good enough for Preacher Price in the book. This white man was sure he knew what was best for those black people.

Even today, the issue of race is far from as simple as black and white.

My first memory of race relations was back in third grade at Wolflin Elementary School. Our class sat together at the big reading tables, each drawing our families. I sat next to my friend, Felecia (not her real name). I watched her coloring, then asked, “Felecia, why do we call you black, but you’re using that brown crayon?” 

“I dunno … why do we call you white, but you’re using that peach-colored crayon?”

She stopped, and looked at me, the question bouncing between us. We both shrugged, and went back to our drawings. It made no sense in 1975. It’s still confusing today.

In 9th grade, I was a cheerleader at Stephen F. Austin Junior High. There were six of us: five white girls, and one who was black – Kaki (not her real name). Kaki won the most votes from the student body when we all tried out. She always had the highest GPA each six weeks (and we were all strong students). I’d played sports with Kaki the past two years, so already knew she was the most athletic. Did I mention she was beautiful and sweet, too?

In May, Kaki won every major award the school gave. From highest GPA, to the student the teachers voted on to who most upheld our school’s values. Kaki now lives in the Dallas area is quite happy and successful. Still smart, beautiful, funny and kind.

Years later in 1992, one of my elders was bemoaning the rioting in Los Angeles. You remember Rodney King, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

As she talked about those people, I said the issue was complex, and reminded her of Kaki’s excellence. “Oh Marcy,” she sighed. “Kaki was the exception, and not the rule.”

Really? Because I think Kaki is a fine example of what a child is capable of when the world around her says, “I believe in you – period.”

Back to the Poisonwood Bible. Not one person chooses to let Pastor Price baptize them in the river in 30 years. His single-minded obsession to save “those poor black people from themselves” not only destroyed his family, but he died alone in the jungle.

What about those of us in the good ol’ US of A now?

History seems to be repeating itself. Will we be like Pastor Price and the old guard, or accept change like the rest of his family. Only time will tell, but what do I know?

I’m still trying to figure out why black people and white people use the brown-and-peach-colored crayons to draw themselves.

This is Marcy McKay, local author from Amarillo and Radio Reader from High Plains Public Radio. For more information, go to HPPR.org.