Real Beauty

Last night we went to the annual lights display at the Ginter Park Botanical Gardens. The array of lights are remarkable against the backdrop of the night sky. I did not notice until this evening that I saw no black or brown people there aside from our infant son. Does that mean something? 

I imagine there were people of other color there, but it is not at all part of my memory. I just see white people in puffy jackets with hot chocolate. Do people of other color go to other gardens? What aspects of that Garden quietly, subconsciously tell me that I belong? That I am the kind of person who should get a membership? Are there aspects that make it clear to other races that it might not be the same kind of place for them?

Nothing about the garden or the whole experience that night feels evil or wrong, and yet why is it unsettling that the garden itself is so multicolored and the people so uni-colored? Why does it feel disingenuous that the theme of this year’s light display is “In Living Color,” but the present human palette so plain? 

How does this happen? 

Is it what it is or is it emblematic of more? Does it say something about gardens? The surrounding neighborhood? The location? The people? The history? Truly, I do not know. What I know is that I am scared by how attractive garden membership is. There is an eerie allure to living in a fantastical reality where I feel entirely comfortable. 

It is only my black son in front of me whose beauty reminds me that the light tour is an endless loop under a heavy sky. There is no progress safely membered there. The jackets insulate, the chocolate lulls, and the lights enchant. But eventually the electricity will fail or the plug will be pulled, and then it’s just us and the wild again. 

Hopefully we will have spent some time pursuing real living color. We will need each other. We do. The naked, multicolored garden foliage itself whispers the truth to its steward about what makes for real beauty.


I wrote this during an Unmasking RVA event. The prompt was this: when you think about race, what comes to mind?

Bobby Hulme-LippertComment