While I may not be the world’s best my mom made sure that I was able to do my own laundry. Growing up in a large family we each had to take turns with a variety of chores. One of them was laundry. And with so many pieces of clothing to replace if something went wrong you had better get it right or there would have been hell to pay. Most of my clothing were hand me downs from my older brothers and, I’m embarrassed to say, some came from my older sisters. And once I outgrew them they would be passed to my brothers that came after me. So the clothes that I wore as a kid had to be laundered with the utmost of care. I was growing up in the seventies with clothes that looked like Ed Sullivan himself wore back in the fifties. While I may not have looked in style, the clothes looked good.
I was about ten when I learned the mechanics of good laundry. I learned how to sort, treat stains, read labels and follow directions when I was unsure, and select laundry settings such as agitation speed, water temperature, water level, when I could get away with the standard detergent and when to use something with a little oomph, bleaching with the liquid or with dry powder, when to use liquid fabric softener or when to just use a dryer sheet, starching, ironing, and when to just send it off to the cleaners. Laundry is an art form unto itself.
The habit of keeping clothes until they are beyond their fashionable lifespan is something that I still practice to this day. Every now and then accidents do happen. A few months ago a bright red washcloth ended up getting bleached and washed in hot water with an entire load of white clothes. The washcloth came out a dingy barely pink while the whites looked a lot like their original selves. A lot of the whites were already a little dull so other than one red washcloth it really wasn’t much of a loss. But pulling all of those clothes out of the clothes dryer another analogy popped into my psyche. When that bright red washcloth went into the laundry with all those whites they had an influence on each other. But there was just one colored washcloth working against an entire load of white clothes. And since the washcloth was exposed to the white’s washing environment, the liquid bleach and the hot water, it had to endure an environment more shocking to its nature that it was ever intended for. It is no surprise it came out looking much more like the whites than the other red washcloths in the linen closet.
So anybody who does laundry and wants to keep their clothes looking as vibrant as possible for as long as possible will follow the steps to find out what the laundering needs of each article of clothing and make sure they follow the directions carefully. And what’s sad is that more people are much more willing to give special consideration for their clothing’s individual washing needs than they would be likely to consider the individual needs of people or the needs of an entire community of people.
The general consensus of the dominant American society is that in order for people of obvious color to make it in the dominant culture’s world of business they must check their ethnicity at the door. It’s okay if some unavoidable or unchangeable remnant of your ethnicity remains fixed. For example not every black person is able to do the Michael Jackson and bleach their skin to the point that they glow like an illegal alien from Area 51. But when that black person opens their mouth they’d better be spewing the values of the dominant society like a pledge of allegiance. So many people want people of color to do their best to distance themselves from their colored past and prove beyond a shadow of doubt how much they want to embrace a racially generic “when I look at you I don’t see a black person” future.
Too often the ethnic minority job applicant must get the social equivalent of chlorine treatment in hot water and mix with a lot of whites in order to be accepted. Sadly, like the formerly red washcloth, we end up looking more like our whitewashed environment than we do our colored beginnings. And sometimes, when we run across another colored washcloth that has managed to keep true to its original color some of us discover that we’re more likely to identify with our new racially generic, but somehow always predominantly white, peers. Some of us will make the transition and then look back and tell the other coloreds that if you want to fit you have to submit to the whitewashing treatment so that you too can distance yourself from your colored past. A black person can only be free if they submit to the whitewashing.
I actually felt bad for my formerly red washcloth. It’s not exactly white and it definitely doesn’t belong with the other colored cloths anymore. It now serves duty as a washcloth for cleaning out the bathtub. I will do my best to keep my laundry separate so that my clothes retain their character as there were intended. It would be nice if people would only give other people the same consideration in order for all of us to remain true to our original design.