I grew up in a small town called Prarieville, Louisiana, sandwiched in between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. There on the land inherited by my grandmother I had the typical upbringing of a poor black single parent home. We watched the Jeffersons, Good Times and Sandford & Son. We enjoyed the music of Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye and the one and only, Luther Vandross. I was a part of the struggle of a single Black American mother raising 7 kids on her own. I saw the privilege of being a white southerner opposed to being a southerner of color. I felt the stereotype that came along with being black. The ideas black culture had on white society seemed to be accurate.
Then I moved to Marietta, Georgia for college. My college years were a crucial time in my life that shaped my worldview. This time played a role in who I was becoming as an adult. I went through this time with predominately White American friends. We studied together, we played together, we ate together and went to church together as well. Together we experienced growing pains. We shared the heartbreak that comes with adulthood. I went home with these friends and truly felt like part of the family. Then there were times I felt like the token black friend or the elephant in the room. They did not understand where I was coming from or what it took for me to get here.
The combination of these experiences have helped me to realize that there are things the white culture has gotten wrong about black culture, there are also things the black culture has gotten wrong about white culture. But, more importantly, these experiences have allowed me to live my life in the grey zone. I believe this zone was formed when people who possessed compassion in the white culture met a group of black people who were seeking the truth. Together they met a group with some intellectual and physical limitations but full of hope. Out of their conversation came the grey zone. In this zone truth is in the air, compassion is in the water, hope grows like fruit on trees. Everybody, in this zone, lives off the land. The best part about living life in the Grey Zone is one doesn’t have to drive a certain car or make a particular income. It’s not about status. It’s about the understanding of yourself and others.
In the zone, classism is choked out. There is no space for a practice which subordinates people due to income, occupation, education and/or their economic condition. A person can not expect another person, who does not have the same privileges, to live up to their standards. It makes no difference whether a person is living life outside of our culture, raised under the same roof, or raised by us if they have not had the exact same privileges directly influencing their lives then they cannot live up to our standards. In the grey zone, no one is expected to live up to someone else’s standards; they are the standard. The potential, resources, experience, and education of an individual sets the standard which they have to live up to. Everyone in this zone encourages others to live up to their own standard.
In this zone, respect trumps privileges. There’s no explanation for it, it’s just ‘the way it is.’ Also, in this zone, there is no way to gain respect other than taking responsibility. A life without privileges does not exclude anyone from their responsibilities. People in this zone do not fall victim to internalized oppression. They are not accepting and living out the inaccurate myth and stereotypes that are placed on their culture. At the end of the day, they take responsibility for their successes and failures in life. The preconceived notions and unfair system set up to drain them only fuels their drive for success.
The grey zone insists on continuing education. Everyone must remain teachable. Moreover, if an individual in this zone is different in any way they are not only to remain teachable but they are also assigned the role of a teacher. Our differences make us rare, therefore; valuable in this zone. We are the key to recruiting and training allies. Anti-oppression starts with the willingness to share our knowledge and experiences so others can learn and grow.
No doubt about it, had I lived my entire life based on the experiences I have had in the black community or the knowledge I gained from the white community, I would not have grown into the person I am today. In the grey zone, my knowledge gelled with my experiences and formed wisdom. I believe, through my faith, there is a place called Paradise every one of us can one day live in it. In that place, there will be no judgment, no hate, no bigotry and no preconceived notions. However, we cannot survive in such an environment. Our mind and hearts are underdeveloped. We must live our lives in an incubator. The grey zone that I speak of is that incubator. Therefore, we all should attempt to create or find a grey zone that we can live and grow in.