As a parent, I have always tried to teach my children to be colorblind. I have seen difference in race, ethnicity and culture being distorted in such a negative way that I want my children to look past outward appearances. So, I have made an effort to expose them to different cultural practices and to people from different ethnic backgrounds. It seemed to be working, as my children never gave an indication of shyness to different cultural or ethnic boundaries. In fact, I have always been proud of the fact that my kids approach most strangers with politeness and respect. As it usually happens, just when I think I’m doing a great job at parenting, one of my kids have to go and prove me wrong.
I had taken all the little kids to the doctor’s office for my youngest daughter’s pre-op check up by myself. The entire time, they were their usual friendly selves, making conversation and interacting with everybody in the doctor’s office. As we were walking out of the office after the checkup, there was a sweet elderly couple setting by the exit door. My 4 year old son runs over to them, excited to tell them Merry Christmas. I smile and watch as he talks to them and the old man’s face lights up with the joy of it. As they interact, my son leans in really close to the guy and asks him a question which mortifies me.
The question was, “Why are your hands black?” I was taken back by the question because he had never seemed to notice any difference in race before and I thought the question to be extremely inappropriate. The guy just laughed it off and I apologized. After a few more seconds of conversation, we were all tucked safely in the car and heading toward our house. My mind couldn’t wrap itself around the meaning behind the comment or what I should do to address it.
Because of my own interactions with the world, I found myself feeling like I had failed at teaching my kids tolerance. I couldn’t help to feel that this was a negative sign. Somehow, my son’s sudden realization of difference of race filled me with a sense of shame. I planned out how I would talk to him about it. I decided I would tell him, again, how people are like flowers. We have different color hair, eyes and skin but we are all the same inside. I decided that I would have to try, again, to make him colorblind.
When I set down to have the conversation with him, however, his reactions brought about my own prejudice and showed me flaws in my logic that I hadn’t seen before. I set down and before I began the lecture part of our conversation, I asked him why he asked that question. I wanted to know, first, what made him suddenly take notice of something he seemed to always ignore before: race. His answer floored me.
With a smile on his face, he simply said, “Because his hands were beautiful”. Tears welled in my eyes as I hugged him and told him that he was right, the man’s hands were beautiful. That was basically the end of our conversation because I realized that I didn’t need to explain difference in race to him. In fact, in that moment, he became my teacher.
I made the decision, a long time ago, to cast away stereotypes and look inside people rather than outside of them. People don’t understand, and I suppose its cliche to say that I don’t really notice race anymore. I mean, of course, I notice differences in physical attributes but I don’t categorize people based solely on these physical attributes. This is what I have done to shield myself from succumbing to the prejudice culture that I have encountered throughout my life and, for me, it works.
The mistake I made was assuming that my children needed to take the exact same approach to it that I had. It never occurred to me that my children would, naturally, question difference in race because I don’t ever remember doing it, myself. Of course, growing up in a small town, the question of difference in race wasn’t an issue until I was old enough to understand the implications of racial differences on a larger scale.
“Because his hands were beautiful” is not the response of a little boy who is noticing race as a means to set himself apart, somehow, from people of a different race. It is not the response of a little boy who will go through life without putting emphasis on the differences in race and culture. It is the response of a little boy who sees differences in people and, very naturally, celebrates it. It is a more beautiful and complete view of the world than I have.
I realize now that the explanation that my son has of difference of race is beautiful and pure. Trying to change it would be a mistake. I want nothing more for him than to go through his entire life celebrating differences, rather than using them in a negative or prejudice way. I know to do this, I don’t have anything to teach him. All I have to do is help him keep it.