I See Black People: Thoughts on Children and Colorblindness

BNYHands

Not quite the contrast from that day, but you get my meaning.

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.

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I See Black People: Thoughts on Children and Colorblindness

BNYHands

Not quite the contrast from that day, but you get my meaning.

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 “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.

The Good, The Bad, and The Hebetudinous!

Somewhere between “Mama” and “actually mommy” my five year old developed a pretty decent vocabulary. I never used “baby talk” when speaking to her and was often accused of talking to her as if she were an adult. So, she happens to be my favorite conversationalist.

I became perplexed last year, her Kindergarten year, when she began to chastise me for using bad words. Each time I used what she would describe as a bad word, she would let out a resounding, “awwwwwwwwwww, mommy, you sad a bad word!”

I was confused!

First, I was confused because I knew for certain that I had not said sh*t, d*mn, b*tch, or the mother of them all around her, so I had no idea what I could have possibly said. To my pumpkin, “bad words” were determined to be “dumb” and “stupid.” To my credit, I was pretty proud of myself that my little darling’s world of “bad words” were limited to “dumb” and “stupid.”

Let’s face it: many of us worry that they’ll pick up a word we say when we stump our toe or get stuck in morning traffic, dropping off our kid and the crossing guard puts that hand out just before s/he gets to you, making you late! At that very moment, all you think is, “Ain’t this a b*tch!!! I have to get out of the car and sign her in to school on the one day that I did not brush my teeth or comb my hair because I thought I would be right back!!” You look in the mirror and notice lint in your fro and a Fruit Loop stuck to your forehead. On days like this, you are liable to say anything.

Anyway, my point is that, I am thankful that her definition of bad words are limited to “dumb” and “stupid”, but if we are looking for a culprit to the usage of these two words, I am guilty as charged! I never call people stupid (around her), but I am always calling things and ideas stupid . . . always. I do not use stupid for lack of a well-rounded education. I use stupid because that is the most polite word I can come up with.

The second reason I was perplexed is because, while I always call things dumb or stupid, I limit my usage of the words “good” or “bad” as much as possible. I seldom attribute the label good or bad to words when engaging her in conversation, well, because . . . what the hell does that mean?

Should there be a word that I don’t want my daughter to use, I would simply say that the words she is using is inappropriate. For me, that is easier to explain. It allows me the opportunity to introduce context when necessary. I can easily say that thus word is appropriate to say at home, but not school. For me, not only is “bad” vague, but it is also subjective and more difficult to challenge in a disagreement.

Should she call someone stupid, we could discuss being impolite, rude, mean or obnoxious and how obnoxious kids are generally disliked by other kids. No one wants to play with a mean kid. For me, that conversation means more to a child. They learn exactly why the word is problematic and the ramifications of using it. What would she learn if I simply tell her that “stupid” is a bad word? She would only learn to avoid saying that word around me.

Once, Nina was playing with something that she shouldn’t have played with and I was so busy that I didn’t engage her. I simply told her to stop playing with it. A month or so later, she played with the same item again, but this time I had more time and told her the dangers of playing with that item. Her response: I wish you had told me before why you didn’t want me to play with it. I wish parents could tell kids everything so that we would know what was dangerous.”

How astute, I thought. Although I know that it is impossible to tell her all that she needs to know at once, I do know the importance of telling her why because the “why” is very much a part of the learning process. One remembers the reason they need to “look both ways before crossing the street is because they could get hit by a car” much better than if you simply tell them “don’t walk across the street without looking both ways.”

So, I have learned a couple of things from this exercise:

1. When engaging my child, the “why” is an important aspect of the learning process.

2. To substitute the word “hebetudinous” each time I want to call someone/some thing stupid.