Color Blindness

I remember the first time Kick directly identified someone’s race. It wasn’t long ago. I’d waved to a neighbor through the window while we were having breakfast and she asked who I was waving at.

“Mr. M-, honey. He’s out in his yard.”

She turned, waved to him, and asked, “He’s a black man, right?”

“Right,” I said, trying to within three seconds identify if her intonation implied she thought this was a negative, something to be afraid of, something to mock, that would need to be corrected. It sounded neutral, a descriptive, the way she’d say the baby next door was a boy or Grandma has brown hair.

She’s been around families of any number of races and ethnic backgrounds since she was born, and while she’d noticed differences — that man is tall, that woman has curly hair — she’d never before asked if someone was black or Hispanic or Asian. We’ve read books about Rosa Parks and Ella Fitzgerald and Maya Angelou, about Frida Kahlo, and most recent children’s books include depictions of children of color, though fewer of them as protagonists than they should.

It’s not enough that she has a diverse environment and lives and learns with students of all races, when in our house we’re all so Caucasian as to be nearly transparent. There are still conversations to be had, about why Rosa Parks couldn’t sit at the front of the bus, or why people were mean to Maya Angelou, or what we are protesting next Saturday, or what someone down the street said to someone else.

White parents don’t get to be lazy about marking and honoring the differences between people, not when so many people use those differences to divide. Not when kids notice EVERYTHING, all the time, including how we talk about people of other races when we think they aren’t listening.

That morning, Kick was attacking her toaster waffle with gusto and I’m not sure was paying much attention to my subsequent explanation that Mr. M- has a skin color people call black even though it’s more of a dark brown, and we have a skin color people call white even though it’s more pink. By the time I got to the part about how skin color can be passed down in families sometimes but not always, she was off playing with My Little Ponies and I was basically lecturing to the cats. Race Conscious has good advice but it doesn’t always track with a 4-year-old’s attention span.

What talks do you remember having with your parents about race, and what did they tell you?


4 thoughts on “Color Blindness

  1. never happened. luckily paternal unit(racist) left. all i know is. i grew up on the edge of ‘the ghetto’, but we had a mixed block. or more white. i know i had black friend a few doors down who i liked a lot, but moved away. i do remember dancing in the front room w/ her + my adult older family. (WHY? I DO NOT KNOW), but i sensed somehow, they did not like it. did go to segregated grade school later. i always wanted to be friends w/ black kids. probably because of her.

  2. In the late 80s/early 90s in small-town Wisconsin, it was Rude to remark on anyone’s race as a function of their physical appearance. You could talk about their culture or their ethnicity, but referring to someone as “black” was Just Not Done. This is where euphemisms like “people from Chicago” and “Mississippi kids” came from. Sure that white person might live in Chicago, but they’re not “from Chicago”, at least not “like that”. It was exhausting.

    How to not be racist was a simple lecture about letting everyone do the same things and how ridiculous was it that grandma wouldn’t let my brother’s Hmong friends use our bathroom. No discussion of systemic inequality or institutionalized oppression; official racism was a thing that ended with Dr. King.

  3. I’m an Army brat. We’d lived all over the states and abroad; and the Army itself is very diverse. I was born in the early 60s, so there was a lot to talk about with regard to race. My parents are super liberal and were very open about race and civil rights. I’m glad they were, although it’s made it difficult to even attempt to grok the hate that some people have taught their children.

  4. Mine were … unusual. Both were born before 1920 in Texas. On an individual basis (that guy Joe, for example) they were as open-minded and even-handed as possible. En masse…. not so much.

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