Volume 18, Number 2
March 2001


The Color Purple

Wynn A. Gunderson

On Martin Luther King Day, I began writing this column on diversity, which has been a goal of mine this year as chair. As we honor Dr. King’s memory, we are reminded of his dream that some day people would be judged not by the color of their skin; but rather by the content of their character. Dr. King dreamed not just in black and white, but in full color, as he envisioned people of all races and colors coming together as brothers and sisters. Although substantial progress has been made toward achieving Dr. King’s dream, we all know much remains to be done. Each of us has an obligation to work toward making that dream come true.

When reflecting on what we can do, it occurred to me that adults can learn a lot from children about how to treat others. Adults are affected by skin color differences in a way that children are not. Children begin life "color-blind," oblivious to skin pigment differences. Any prejudices they may ultimately later develop come from exposures to adult attitudes and behavior. If adults suddenly lost the ability to distinguish one color from another, skin color differences would have no effect on how they treated others. Our skin color would have no bearing on our individual identities, and we could just as well all be "colored purple."1

I was recently reminded of this difference between children and adults while my wife and I were watching our grandson in Phoenix play basketball. His team was made up of a culturally-diverse group of 12-year-olds. It was obvious they had enormous respect for each other, not only on the playing floor but also when they were together before and after the game. It was also apparent they were very special friends, initially brought together by basketball but ultimately bonded together by their mutual respect. Skin color simply was never a factor.

Of course, not all adults have major shortcomings when it comes to accepting others with skin color differences, but there does seem to be a change that occurs when we become adults. Perhaps the loss of innocence is a greater loss than we realize. Unlike adults, children seem to be able to treat each other as though they truly are all "colored purple," and readily accept others based on how they act, not how they look.

Although our Section leaders are no longer children (some may disagree after attending some of our social events), they seem to have retained that ability to view everyone as though they are "colored purple." Still, much remains to be done to ensure we reach our goals for diversity. We are currently involved in implementing an excellent plan drafted by Pamila Brown, our Diversity Committee chair, and approved by our Council. Some of our efforts to date include: (1) actively recruiting people of color; (2) awarding three funded fellowships to people of color and immediately involving them in the work of the Section through leadership appointments; (3) being an early donor (second) to ABA past president Bill Paul’s minority scholarship program; (4) co-sponsoring the Spirit of Excellence Award reception and luncheon at the Midyear Meeting in San Diego; and (5) developing a program on diversity that will be held during our Spring Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 10-13, 2001.

By striving for diversity, we have made and will continue to make our Section stronger and more versatile. However, more needs to be done to fully diversify our Section, and we need your help. Your ideas and comments are solicited. If you are currently not a member of the Section, please honor us by joining. Just contact any Section leader and tell her or him you want to join (it is easy to recognize us because of our "purple color"), or e-mail me at wynn@gpgnlaw.com and I will make sure an application is promptly forwarded to you.

1. This reference and the title of this column are "borrowed" from the title of Alice Walker’s award-winning novel, upon which Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film was based.

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