Janesville Gazette – March 17, 1996, By: Anna Marie Lux
In 1959, John Howard Griffin shocked white America with his decision to deliberately pass as an African-American.
His book, “Black Like Me”, exposed harsh realities about tensions between the races and posed the question: “What kind of people are we?”
Thirty-seven years later, actress/writer Jinx Davis of the Mode Theatre in Waterloo roamed 8,000 miles of the rural and urban landscape of America as both a black and a white woman. She moved between some of our nation’s worst ghettos to the protected splendor of the rich, changing colors in both environments to see how she was perceived as a person.
For several weeks in 1989 and again last year, Davis spent much of her time in the South, Including Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
Davis, a white woman, became dark by rubbing dye on her skin that normally is used by competitive body builders before a meet. The dye gets dark on the skin over several days and lasts up to two weeks.
She watched people stop talking to her, as she grew darker.
“We are a country totally separated by both race and class,” she said. “We spend a lot of time denying it. But there are no connecting threads between the poor and the wealthy, blacks and whites.”
At one point, Davis camped on Jekyll Island, off the coast of Georgia. She accidentally fell headfirst into a huge rock pile in the ocean and fractured all the bones in her right hand.
Wounded and wearing only her swimsuit, she ran into some workers who appeared to be bewildered at her blotchy black skin. The dye, which she hadn’t been able to apply properly, was wearing off. Eventually, an ambulance took her to the mainland where she got medical care.
At the hospital, personnel treated her hand, but didn’t offer her any clothes.
“They just let me walk back out into the city still wearing my swimming suit,” Davis said
“The social order in Georgia is absolute. They reacted to a blonde woman, full of salt in a swimsuit, who had very blotchy skin.”
When Davis returned home to Waterloo, she turned her experiences into a play, The Winds Of Heaven Between Us.” She wrote it from “the blood, sweat and simple joys of generations of Americans who whispered to me between the rows of cotton in the fields where I meandered, the park benches where I stopped to join a game of checkers and the smoky corner jazz clubs where I swung my hips.”
She is performing the play at her innovative Mode Theater on weekends in March.
Davis took her journey, alternating between black and white, “because I cannot live in America without knowing in my body what some of its population has to deal with everyday.”
“What I found, whether I talked with poor whites, overclass blacks or blacks in the projects, was a universal anger and deep-seated sense of betrayal among people stemming from the mistrust of the other.”
The rich are spending massive amounts of money to put up protected neighborhoods, schools, and shopping centers so they don’t have to see what is happening to the other half, she said.
“Diversity is the most difficult challenge we face today. But we have to find the skills to honor real diversity because we now are paying when we don’t give voice to poor people’s concerns. When you don’t give voice, violence is the only alternative.”
Davis said she “found that the minorities of this country are the ones whose hearts are open. Whether I traveled as a black or white, it was only the minorities who took me into their homes and offered me repose.”