First off, let me just put it out there: it’s not lost on me that I’m a middle class Southern white woman writing a blog post about race. I am fully aware that will be uncomfortable for some people to read. But something happened, and I’ve been thinking about it, and writing is what I do.
My friend Paige was watching the local news when she was startled by a story.
It didn’t sit well with most of my friends. In the progressive little bubble I live in, we were all taken aback. We’re not foolish. We know racism, classism, agism and too many other isms are alive and well, but that statistic just seems very 1950s. It’s worth noting an Internet poll is most likely not terribly reliable, but it sparked a conversation.
It’s also worth noting that as a white, middle-class Southern woman, I understand there are certain advantages I was simply born into. I did nothing to earn them, and my experiences and views of the world are based primarily on living in a society that assigns me these privileges based on the color of my skin. However, my parents worked hard, as did teachers, pastors, friends and mentors to make me aware of this, not guilty, but aware of my circumstance so I could be sensitive to others and hopefully help eradicate those differences.
I spend most of my time with people who, while not perfect, also want to improve race relations. One friend told us she doesn’t allow her children to use race as a physical description of people. I understand why she took that position. She doesn’t want to hear them talk about the “white girl” or the “black boy.” She’s teaching them there is much more to people than the color of their skin. That’s admirable.
Monkey Boy hasn’t yet said anything quite like that, so I’m not sure if I’m willing to make that rule or not. While most of our friends are white, we have made it a point for him to spend time with people of all races, ethnicities, cultures, religions and ability levels.
His favorite babysitter is an African-American woman, B. Two stories involving her illustrate what I think is heart of the issue: recognizing differences is important, so long as you don’t assign value to them.
Monkey Boy does a lot of sorting exercises at his preschool. He puts all the green squares in one pile, yellow stars in another, blue diamonds in yet another. He looks at groups and decides what’s the same and what is different. This has cause a strong interest in who is a boy and who is a girl. He knows the boys are his team. Mommy, Katy Kat and B are “goiwls.” Daddy and Monkey Boy are “BOOOYEEEES!!!!” One day Monkey Boy and I both wore red shirts. “We’re the same!” he declared with a considerable amount of glee. Same and different has been a big theme at our house for a while.
One night, when B was keeping him, she was putting lotion on him after his bath. He put his arm next to hers and said, “You have brown skin and I have light skin.” She told me she wasn’t really sure where he was going with that, so she just said, “Yes.” He followed up with, “We’re different. You’re a girl, and I’m a boy.” She said, “Yes.” Then he tried to con her out of candy. That was it. No value. Just observations. He sees the color difference, but he gives it no weight. He knows who loves him. He knows who can be suckered into candy. That’s pretty much all he cares about.
Not long after that, B was picking him up from school, as she does from time to time. One of the other boys also knows her and was calling her by our last name. She asked him why he was doing that. He said, “Because you’re [Monkey Boy’s] grandma.” She asked why he thought she was his grandmother. (She’s 24.) He said, “Because you pick him up from school sometimes, and my grandma picks me up from school sometimes, so you’re his grandma.” Once you get past the age insult, that’s just incredibly sweet.
B told me later, “Kids get it right. They don’t think color or age mean anything. They just see love. All they know are families are people who love each other, and they don’t care about anything else.”
The trick: never let Monkey Boy outgrow that.