“The secret to being happy – be kind, be kind, and be kind.“ – Fred Rogers
At one of my previous jobs, the DISC profile was used to differentiate personalities in the workplace culture. It’s broken down into four different colors to represent personality traits: Red – Dominance; Yellow – Influencing; Green – Steadiness; Blue – Compliance.
Where the purpose of the DISC profile was foster a better culture by working through and embracing differences, the result was practically the opposite. People were very quick to either use their color as the excuse for their behavior (“I’m this way because I’m Red” was actually said to me….my response was “I’m Black the last I checked”), or to mock others for their different color. I had a co-worker named Karen who did this to me on more than one occasion during staff meetings. (Needless to say, I have not spoken to her since I left.)
How is it that in 2019, difference of color is still an issue? Growing up in Upstate New York, I was one of four Black students in my high school graduating class of over 200….I graduated from the Ithaca College School of Music in 1990, where I was the ONLY black student in my class. Sadly, people were quick to judge me as “white” because of how I spoke, and still speak….I’m a product of my upbringing – both of my parents were teachers, and they wanted my brother and me to grow up and thrive without hopefully having to face the racism they endured growing up in New England and in the Midwest. Even with their best efforts, I was teased by both my White and Black peers….add in a teaspoon of sexual abuse, and this pretty much gives you the answer as to why my self-esteem was so low for many years. It’s why I stopped playing sports in junior high (being constantly told that I had “White Man’s Disease all the time is the reason I rarely pick up a basketball to this day….fuck you, Mark Wilens and Eric Stein), and being turned down on more than one occasion for a date because of the color of my skin are things that I have had to forgive for my own sanity, but these are memories that are impossible to erase.
At Ithaca, I was referred to as “pseudo-Black” by other Black students, because there was a perception that I preferred to hang out with White students (ironically, this was when I was the bass player for our Amani Singers gospel group)…as a music major, between my classes, ensemble rehearsals (I was in four different ensembles at the time), working my part-time job, and squeezing in time to be the bassist, it was nothing more than a cheap shot. I’ve seen a few of these fellow alumni at recent events…I’ve chosen to take the high road and treat them with kindness instead of bringing up the past.
One very positive “color experience” I had during my time at Ithaca was finding out that I’m highly chromesthetic – the ability to relate different notes to different colors. Since being tested by the brilliant Professor Dan Novak in a Modes of Learning class back in 1988, this has changed the way I’ve played, sang, and listened to music for the past 31 years, and it has helped to recall positive memories related to music going back to early childhood. I’m thouroughly convinced that my other friends who have either perfect pitch or highly relative pitch are the same way. Certain keys/songs remind me of either sunny days, rainy days or snowy days, and when I can only listen to certain songs/albums during specific times of the year. This partially explains why I love to drive so much….for me, listening to George Benson’s “Breezin’” album on a perfect sunny summer day while on a road trip is one of my favorite life experiences, as it stimulates my senses of sight and sound to the extreme. Dr. Novak, I can never thank you enough!
Here’s a strange bit of irony….I prefer to be photographed in black & white…there’s more of a contrast with my skin color, and these photos always have a softer focus.
It sounds very cliche, but I wish that we lived in a world where colors were not such a source of division. I can’t help but think that difference of color could not have been an issue millions and billions of years ago, and that the racism of the world over the last nearly 300 years is barely a blip on the radar of the history of our planet (unless dinosaurs and pterodactyls had issues with being different colors)…it goes back to the basic principle – focus on the things we have in common instead of the things that make us different. (And please try not to argue about why Gb is grey, but F# is purple. 😉)