In the pink

Kevin Begos, a former contributor to CR, called me Monday to ask if I’d be interested in commenting on the pink ribbons that permeate our culture every October. I told him that I’d just finished an op-ed for The Birmingham News that reveals my current conflicted perspective on the matter.

When I read the associated press story that’s published just about everywhere (and linked to the end of this post), I felt even more torn. While Kevin did my words justice at the end of the story, he began with an off-the-cuff, admittedly less sensitive remark I made about the pink crusade.

I began wondering why I felt uncomfortable with the story. Truth be told, I am conflicted about the value, and at times, integrity, of the ribbon. When I look at pink ribbon duct tape, bubble wrap, and fried chicken, I find myself experiencing a visceral reaction–not necessarily the good kind. But when I think about the wonderful support I’ve received from the women who run the North Central Alabama Komen affiliate, saying so seems a bit dirty.

I think the real discomfort stems not from the ribbon, but from the narrative it represents. Intentional or not, the pink ribbon is a constant reminder that breast cancer survivors are supposed to respond to their disease(s) in a very narrow way–optimistically, cheerfully, and charitably. There are times when I just can’t muster that. I’d prefer a shade of gray, or blue, or maybe even shouting, fed-up-with-breast-cancer red.

By contrast, the story of my partnership with Komen is varied and real. As we planned for Street Smarts, we had plenty of doubt that we’d ever pull it off and disagreements over how best to serve a population that was unfamiliar to most of the volunteers. We also shared a lot of laughs and feel-good, coming together moments, when we realized we were reaching women who were well off the radar and who needed to feel cared about. They needed the same kind of awareness that the pink ribbon was originally devised to bring into the national conversation about a very ugly and destructive disease.

Pink is good. Sometimes.


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