Have you ever heard someone say that “children don’t see color” or “children are colorblind”? I don’t think those people give children enough credit because they are quite observant. Perhaps what they mean is that children are innocent, and racism is not inherent; it has to be taught. Children do notice differences. And sometimes when this happens, it’s quite funny.
Several years ago, my husband and “Zachary” and I were in Cincinnati when we had an experience that we found absolutely hilarious. We had visited the aquarium and were on our way back to the car when we met up with a little white girl and her mother. We were all waiting for the elevator.
Right away I could see the little girl staring at Zachary. She was cute, with a head full of long, red, curly hair and a smattering of freckles. She was about four of five years old and very fair-skinned, about as light as my husband is dark. When the elevator came, we all got in. I pushed the button for our floor and looked around. The girl was still fixated on Zachary, who was standing in the back of the elevator with one hand on the railing. She put her hand on the railing and inched closer. When her little hand was almost touching his, she said, “Your hand is black,” as if she were telling Zachary something he didn’t know. Just then, her mother turned around looking horrified. She grabbed her daughter’s arm, pulled her closer and admonished her, “Stop it! It’s supposed to be like that! It’s supposed to be black!” When the elevator door opened, the duo made a hasty getaway. Meanwhile, I was doubled over with laughter, but Zachary was oblivious to the whole thing. (Maybe he was thinking about the drive home.) When I explained it, he had a good chuckle too.
We weren’t angry that the little girl noticed that Zachary’s hand (as well as the rest of him) was black. It seemed to us that she probably had not seen many black people in her lifetime. The girl did in fact notice race and difference, much to her mother’s embarrassment. People can’t help but see differences because we’re not all the same. Pretending that we are is disingenuous. The problem is not that we notice differences, but in ascribing value based on those differences and using those value judgments as a basis for discrimination.
As for the little girl, I hope she wasn’t traumatized by that event because we sure weren’t. She provided us with an inside joke for life.