The Flesh-Colored Band-aid
By JIM NICHOLS
When I was a boy, I kept falling and skinning my knee or elbow. My mother would paint it with mercurochrome and put on a Band-aid. The goal was to kill potentially infectious bacteria and to cover the wound so it could heal rapidly. The Band-aid itself was a small white strip of flexible cloth backed by adhesive.
Within a few years, the construction of the Band-aid switched to plastic as plastic began to, it seemed, take over the world in my childhood. Furthermore, the color changed from white to “flesh-colored” it said on the box. I thought that was interesting and said something to my father about the “flesh-colored” term and he replied, “That only makes sense if the Band-aid is the same color as your skin and mine; if our skin were a different color, that would not be true.” That encounter was my first glimpse of how the advertising world assumed what color skin was expected to be.
Upon arriving from the mid-west to attend college in Texas in 1962, I visited a campus drugstore. Posted on the window of the store was a sign that read “PAY POLL TAX HERE.” In my high school I had learned something about racism, but I naively thought that was something in the past. It never occurred to me that there were still places where one had to pay a fee just to vote. I had money, but clearly not everyone else did.
This was a revelation to me and a clear move toward beginning to recognize institutional racism. That is, how government and organizations could be shaped to maintain a status quo with certain types of people continuing to have power, influence, and financial rewards. This could take the form of regulations and expectations that were required for full inclusion in the life of the current society. Indeed, the rules became an accepted part of the way the world worked.
When I was training to be a hospital chaplain, we were given a set of statements/questions probing our experience with “white privilege.” It was a checklist and, frankly, convicting to me as I recognized how different my responses were from my group colleagues who had different backgrounds in many ways. They were concerned and disadvantaged by things to which I never give a second thought. The difference was, of course, that my skin was white, and I qualified clearly as a “real American”, but they did not.
Apparently, there is a movement in our country these days that attempts to deny or at least re-orient the cause of these illustrations of past and present privilege based on race, gender, class, or religion. This has hardened into various levels of government forming decrees against what is called Critical Race Theory. I have in front of me right now a published list of twelve “buzzwords” (as the article calls them) that help the reader identify this apparently dangerous line of thought; I have already used several of those terms in this short article. So, this is apparently a dangerous article.
I am certainly no expert in critical race theory. I gather there are smart and reasonable people that believe it is an unbalanced and unbending approach to the relationship of race and our history. Clearly, this is worth our discussion, and we should avoid an us-vs.-them conflict, so common today.
However, let us be careful to be truthful about our past and present. Some of us have an easier ride through life than others; there must be reasons for that. Are there educational disparities? Imposed economic disparities? Voting boundaries and related rules that reduce the influence of certain groups? Differences in access to medical care?
One of scripture’s clearest messages is that God is no respecter of persons. God asks what kind of person you are, how you treat others, how forgiving you are, how kind and how helpful you are.
It is clear that racism permeates levels of government, business, schools, and every other organization. It is dishonest to deny that. How to address the problem is worth discussing; denying its existence is not.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain