“Donna” 12×24, oil on canvas. Buy Now
When I first started this 30 painting in 30 days challenge, I asked for stories about standing one’s ground.. I’ve never met Donna, but she was one of the first to respond. I’ve saved her story for last because it took me a while to really process it.
Originally she wrote to me about racism. Specifically, that African Americans have to stand their holy ground daily. When you’re white you don’t have to spend a whole lot of time thinking about race. She wrote that she always has to think about it: “We have to prove daily that we are worthy, that we are not a threat, that our plight is real. We have to teach our sons to be respectful at a level that others don’t even think about and teach our daughters that they are beautiful, that their natural hair is beautiful…” She continued on to say, “Standing our holy ground is having strength to love ourselves knowing that doesn’t mean we hate others.”
I asked her if she could tell me about a specific moment that required her or someone she knew to stand their holy ground. She wrote back with this story.
I have three sons, two are brown skinned and one has lighter skin. My youngest has the darkest skin. There has been more than one incident where he was targeted, I believe, because of his skin tone. Although these things didn’t happen to me directly, they affected me more than if it had happened to me. When we lived in Lakeview, my sons would walk five blocks from the bus stop to our house. One day the two younger ones were walking and the darker skinned one was ahead of the lighter one, such that if you were driving up the street, you would see the lighter one first. A person driving up the street passed my lighter skinned son and stopped my brown son and asked him if he lived in the neighborhood. I am certain he was asked because he was clearly Black and clearly (in that person’s mind) a threat. It was very hurtful and infuriating to me because I know that he felt so angry and helpless because he answered the question and continued walking home. Can you imagine, being one of two, from the same source, sharing the same blood and questioned about your place in this world? Because that is what it feels like: you don’t belong, why are you here?
People that don’t have to think about this really can’t imagine such a thing– that based on your appearance alone, a person has the right to question another about whether or not they belong in a certain part of town.
I painted this peacock because it’s looking over his shoulder, and I like to think he’s walking down the street. When we stand our ground we claim a right to it. A right to exist. And if we can’t acknowledge that there are spaces that welcome some and question others, we simply aren’t being honest.
I’ve written about it before, but I find peacocks particularly intriguing because of their beauty and seeming confidence. I can’t help but connect this image to Donna story. The bird is beautiful. It is confident. It is also looking over it’s shoulder just to make sure it’s okay to proceed.
These thirty days have taught me a lot. I’ve got a lot to think about. Thank you so much for sharing your stories. I’m truly humbled.