Kaleidoscope by Melissa Manuel (This is Not a Story)


I don’t have a story for this week. Mainly because I have no idea what to write so I thought I’d still post something.

The high school I attended was a “Conservatory of the Arts” but light on being an actual conservatory. I mainly chose to go there because they had a creative writing program. Being in that specific magnet meant having to write and perform spoken word style pieces.

I am not good at spoken word. I ain’t got rhythm.

But that doesn’t mean I never performed. So here’s one thing I wrote and read for a group of humans once, it’s called “Kaleidoscope” and you’ll see why. It’s not really spoken word it’s more of a TED Talk style thing.

When I was young, or younger anyway, I didn’t understand what color was.

I was colorblind.

Not literally at least. But I was blind to any connotations color had.

When I looked around and saw color I didn’t know what a weapon it could be.

To me, color was just… there.

No part of my mind managed to look at a classmate and their charcoal or caramel skin and even begin to think that they were any better or worse than me.


I was innocent in my youth, as we all are.

Except unlike many I was pure in my opinion of others, mainly because I had no belief system passed down to me. I was free to view others and formulate my own judgements because no one else told me how to. And if they did I was very good at not listening.


In simpler terms, what I’m saying is I had a really hard time understanding what “racist” meant.

Or “segregation” or “Civil Rights Movement” or “Rosa Parks.”

I remember my kindergarten teacher teaching us about the 1960s. She swept her arm out over our small minds and said, “If it wasn’t for Martin Luther King Jr. this wouldn’t be possible.”

I sat there looking around confused, “What wouldn’t be possible?” I had asked, I looked around trying to figure out what she meant. Was she talking about the desks? The books in the shelf? I didn’t understand.


And yet my teacher looked at me with an almost pitying look. And she seemed to struggle with how to answer this young girl that instead of brushing past this theory of thought, she had leaned in astonished, eyes narrowed in confusion, struggling to grasp what her teacher meant.


The only thing she could bring herself to do was raise her hand and point at the boy beside me and said, “Well, if not for Mr. King you couldn’t be in the same class with Daniel.”


And there it is. There it was. Daniel was African American, a person of color, black. I’m not saying my teacher was racist in any way, but she had just taught a group of kindergarteners what racism was. As another school teacher, Jane Elliott once said, “You are not born racist. You are born into a racist society.”


And now, as I reflect on those almost absurd moments in the earliest moments of my life I am acutely aware of how easy it was to turn color into something so much more than what you use to color in the water cycle.


It’s not as if color is a young character in history. It stretches back to before slavery, to Shakespeare, to what the Greeks called “barbarians” to the Egyptians and further and further back. Color mattered, it identified who you were, where you were from, who your family was, what power your name had. This is no different today. John Smith creates a whole different person in your mind from DeRay Mckesson or Rawya Ateya.


Color isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, not now, not tomorrow, not in the next four years of decade. And I’m not just talking about the color of skin, I’m talking about the color of flags that everyone has inside their skin. Whether you’re pure red, white, and blue or red, white, blue and red, green, and white. Or if you’re a kaleidoscope of colors and flags. And it’s important to note that we shouldn’t just be trying to stop the weaponizing of color. Or even erasing it completely. We should be celebrating color, because without difference or diversity all meaning is lost.


Which is why when I look at the world around me I am not trying to ignore the colors, I’m trying to reach out. Trying to connect with every shade and palatte that the world has to offer.


Because when I was young, or younger anyway, I didn’t understand what color was.

I was colorblind.

Now I am color.


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