Calling colours by their real names

Sep 28, 2021 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

[Editor’s note: this allegory was first posted on this website in September 2015, but was inadvertently deleted as the site was undergoing malware cleaning. We thought it would be relevant to post again, in the light of Sir Keir Starmer’s insistence that it’s not right to say that only women have a cervix.]

As little Johnny stood in the crowd, holding tight to his mother’s hand, waiting for the emperor to arrive, he reflected on how confusing things were nowadays. When he had started in reception at Primary School, he had gone over the names of the colours with the other children. The houses that they painted were simple: a red square box with windows and a door, green grass, blue sky, yellow sun.

But then things changed in his second year. The teachers started talking about people who saw things differently. For them, grass is blue and the sky is green and the sun is purple. Even though Johnny and his classmates had never met anyone who believed this, they were told solemnly never to make fun of such people. In fact even though some children got bullied mercilessly for having ginger hair, unfashionable trainers or being slightly overweight, the teachers seemed to ignore that, but were always on the look out for comments about colour awareness.

In the third year it changed again. The teachers got them to do interesting things in class. First, they pointed to the colour which Johnny had always known was blue, and as a group they intoned “green”. They learned to call colours by words which they had always applied to other colours. And then they were told to paint pictures with blue grass, green sky and black sun, except they were still to call the colours by their original names. This, the school principal said, was all part of “diversity”.

Johnny noticed that all around him people were talking about the different colours. On TV, presenters would call colours by their wrong names – at least he thought they were, but then the presenters would laugh and say there was no right and wrong when it came to the names of colours.

On Sundays Johnny went to church with his parents and his little sister. They didn’t always have a Sunday school but Johnny found it interesting to sit with his parents and listen to the sermon. On one occasion the preacher referred to the story of the feeding of the 5000. “It says in the text that the grass that the people sat on was green”, he said, “but of course the writers at that time were very primitive and didn’t have our level of understanding. We know that the grass may well have been blue, or ‘colour-fluid’. As a church we have too often failed to listen with compassion to the views of people with diverse colour awareness. We must repent and become more inclusive. Our casual use of colour designation can cause real pain to some people.”

His family moved to a different church after that.

And now here they were waiting for the emperor to arrive. They had all been told that he would be wearing a special suit and robe of red and yellow, and a song had been composed:

Our emperor, our valiant king

Peace and prosperity you bring

Red and yellow, yellow and red

We fly our flag, by you we are led.

Many people had arrived holding red and yellow flags. But they had all been confiscated, and replaced with black and white ones. Announcements over the speaker system up and down the streets explained: we are celebrating diversity! When the Emperor comes, please hold your red and yellow flags high and sing the song together!

Twitter nearly crashed as millions of people around the country watching on TV joined with the crowds on the streets to send in pictures of a black and white flag with the hashtag “red and yellow”.

“But mum”, said Johnny, “these flags are black and white”. His mother was appalled as people standing around them looked frowning at Johnny. “Shhh” she said. At that point the music started up, and the song rang out through the streets. The cavalcade with the Emperor at the centre made its way slowly along, as people cheered, waved their flags, sang and shouted the song. Johnny was too small to see what colour suit the emperor was really wearing. Did it matter?

In the sermon that Sunday, the Vicar did refer to the issue of colour. “In this place we still refer to the colours by their traditional names”, he said, “and that may sometimes make us feel uncomfortable in the world outside. But it’s not our business to criticize those who have different views, even less to try to change them as if we could return to a golden age. We just want to talk about God and his love!”

Johnny had limited experience and understanding, but he knew that he was living in a world of adults most of whom had taken leave of reality, and those who hadn’t, even those who believed in God, were just passively compliant. What could he do? He was just a little boy. At school the next day, he and two of his friends decided that they would start a secret society called “true colours”.

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