Colour Me Worthy : 4 minute read by Farriz Mashudi 15/08/2020

Unlike what some, if not most people think, YELLOW does not mean being Chinese, Japanese, Korean or any other Far Eastern nationality. Neither is the colour coding relatable to ancestors or descendants of these billions of peoples. So, how, in the English language, did it come to be equated with cowardice?

The Bullingdon – Still present?

For this, we can thank the term ‘yellow belly’, despite its origins within Europe, or possibly a small patch in the North of England.  

Even so, how is this still politically correct?

These days it maligns people born with skin-tones associated with the colour (including the afore-stated, not to mention Yours truly), and remains hurtful to the innocent of the Lincolnshire Fens, hardworking farmers everywhere and the hue itself, despite having little if anything to do with lemon drizzle or the sun, and everything to do with sounding like an old hole in the ground.

Does the fact that colours themselves lack rights lessen the wrong? Why have no art associations spoken up? Well, of course, they live off symbolism.

In his synaesthesia of musical sightings, YELLOW for singer, Pharrell Williams signifies ‘Happy’, the colour that lit up his 2013 mega hit.

Is it purely perspective, then? — The way you see things — based on what you were taught and learnt from experience, or, what you feel despite that and everything else.

            BLUE blooded strains of a singing King George III, reverberate from the soundtrack of ‘Hamilton’ playing in the car. You could say Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer, composer and star of the blockbuster musical got his colours wrong with BAME casting on Broadway and in the West End. But why did he stop at the mad monarch, and not similarly change his skin tone as well, if not blood type?

For this one subject, the show’s creator arguably underscored, favours even, the upper-hand of the ruling-class. Indeed, they do make good patrons.

Arriving in Oxford fresh off the Park N’ Ride on Friday morning, the first thing we saw was a GREEN protest. Marching from their meeting point under the trees opposite the shiny mall, young climate activists were in ‘alternate’ gear. Adorned with rips and zips, torn here and there, it was a look which, like their battered placards, didn’t particularly inspire.

They made a halt at Carfax Tower, just over a hundred meters from where they began. Calling it quits without much fanfare, they stopped a stone’s throw away from a building from the upper parapet of which a certain Mr. Rhodes was stood looking down on the world, still smiling.

In a side window of All Soul’s College across the road, panes plastered in white professing the BLM cause cast a light rendering the half-baked climate protest, so ‘yesterday’.

A family that’s come to see the Rhodes statue walks straight past. Not surprising, amongst so many it’s barely noticeable, unless you know where to look.

Are they stained by coloured choices?

Aren’t we all, to some extent?

If RED was the Western catchphrase for communists during the Cold War, it also means power, passion and affairs of the heart. (Think Valentine’s Day.) But when combined in Chinese with a reference to gingers and a certain canine, an unflattering word for non-Occidentals emerges; and

BROWN-nosing is a term still used derisively, even with baked brownies (and Brownies or Girl Guides), brown bread and brownstones being in vogue;

It’s no surprise that BLACK, too, carries both good and bad connotations. In literature as in life, anything noir is chic, if not edgy and dark, and for the body conscious or wannabe dieter like me, wearing black is slimming.

But the businessman from Beijing who flies First Class on British Airways demanding to be served by a non-Indian stewardess, carries a lot of baggage. Poor him, the culture he associates most closely with refers to foreigners as ghosts or devils, be they white or black.

Does the history of Opium Wars I and II haunt him, or is there something more disturbing in his case? As in the colour of dark clouds preparing to burst their seams as we pass the Sheldonian, is this an openly debatable GREY area?

Photo from December 2019 – A different day of blue skies and cold. The Big Heads have seen it all.

Guessing which one is which of the Greek philosophers staring back at us at the bottom of Broad Street, the cradle of civilisation they represent proves there’s nothing new in xenophobia. Whether it’s colonial karma or the Common Market (or both) that are the culprits for ‘others’ also calling Old Blighty home, will the way we humans perceive each other ever evolve beyond tribal?

Don’t get me started on the fights on religious grounds and land grabs all over the planet. With no other common enemy, seems it really will take invading aliens from outer-space to unite this feuding Earth of ours.

Unlike those who take exception for the sake of objecting, feeling they ought to speak up but their heart’s not in it (like the nascent Greens we saw), when it comes to colour, the signs in the window show solidarity, whilst forced changes to syllabuses (as some Oxford faculties appear to have done) can sow deeper understanding.

Imagine (or put this to bed if it may apply) frequently feeling like an outsider, or being uncomfortable in your own skin. Beyond white fragility, frailer still are those who’ve had to suck-it up and accept repression as a given, be it in side-long glances (surreptitious maybe, still oftentimes blatant) even unwarranted attacks, simply for being.

So, what can we consider non-exploitative, ethically sound, socially acceptable and good for the business of living in present times?

A. If you’re not white*, be wealthy and/or educated: Elevate or assimilate;

B. Treat everyone the same regardless of colour: Be colour blind;

C. Appreciate that people can be different: Be culturally aware;

D. Live and let Live: Be a good neighbour;

E. All of the above, they needn’t be mutually-exclusive.

*or the majority demographic, wherever you are.

Call option ‘E’, Utopian, it’s an ideal that can materialise if we can all just board the bus. Call it a bandwagon if you must, just get with the programme.

Forget the East India Company, the Spanish, the Dutch, Italian and French and all other former (and present-day) colonists, Cecil Rhodes included. They’re history. It’s time to brave some colourful changes, more worthy of remembrance.

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