I am one of those white Baby Boomer guys who has screwed up everything — or at least the finger has pointed often our way.
I don’t totally deny it. I grew up in Oklahoma, Tulsa. When I went off to college, I chose Oklahoma State with, as they say now, the brightest orange. My choice was primarily made because my best friends were going there and because of the major I’d chosen (then changed). I went on to graduate school in Texas, doing my graduate work at the University of Texas-Arlington where the orange was burnt. Nice. Then, after graduation, we moved to Nashville and the land of the University of Tennessee with an orange like a traffic cone that they patented (no fear, folks).
Color-wise, I’ve moved from one red state to another. I, too, started out red — but a career as a social worker and a shift from my conservative, Pentecostal roots has given me a blue tint. The truth is, I’m rather purple.
I find I am “conservative” on some matters and “liberal” on others. It depends on the issue at hand. Even those terms are relative. But in reality even red, blue or purple are limiting, I am all the colors of the rainbow. I worked with many gay men and lesbian women over my career and was on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Nashville, so the rainbow colors became a familiar symbol.
Life does change our colors — or at least it can. As I watched Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on the platform in Wilmington Saturday night, I was deeply moved. We have a Catholic president-elect, a vice president-elect who is of Indian and Jamaican descent and married to a lawyer with Jewish heritage. I relished the diversity.
America has changed color-wise during my life, and that life has also shattered my innocence. I am seldom naïve, although there are moments I pray for a bit of naivety.
After growing up in Tulsa, I’d never heard of the race riots of 1921 or the killing of the Osage women over oil money (Killers of the Flower Moon) until recent years. When we moved to Nashville, the racial mix was basically either Black or white. Now Nashville is a reflection of our country. We have the largest Kurdish population outside their homeland. There is a large Hispanic community, as well as many other ethnic groups. We’re lucky enough to have a neighborhood pool, and when I and my wife went (2019), it wasn’t unusual that we were the “minority.” Asian, African American, Indian, South American, Hispanic all were represented there.
“The peacock of NBC was an omen. Those are the colors of America, yet some don’t seem very happy about it.”
The peacock of NBC was an omen. Those are the colors of America, yet some don’t seem very happy about it. Some prefer the America of the past. They don’t appear to want the changes they see. They fear what they think they’ll have to give up. And yes, when more people show up at the Thanksgiving table (not this year), it means we share the pie. So yes, you could look at that as “losing.” My experience, though, has been that when I build relationships with those unlike me, I gain — not monetarily but within my own being. My color changes.
Like this autumn season, the colors of America are changing. I, for one, am OK with setting a few new places at the table. It is a good thing for us. Getting to know one another helps reduce our anxieties, and we all can use that right now. It’s about listening, a limited thing in the culture right now. I’m learning to deal with my fears of change and the mix of even my own colors.
The rainbow is a promise — of better days. Hope is my color: yellow. A brighter, better day for all of us.
Michael Malloy is a licensed clinical social worker who has been in private practice in Tennessee for 24 years. Born in Oklahoma, he moved to Texas to earn a master of religious education degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a master of social work degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He previously led a nonprofit agency. He is married to Jeannie, and they are the parents of two adult daughters. He is a reader, gardener, hiker and an INFJ.