Friday, November 18, 2011

Race Relations and Our Family

Children are not known for being particularly tactful, and my children are no exception. We have had some interesting moments when it comes to race integration in their minds. I imagine that some people could be offended by some of them, I just find it humorous the way children think. Granted, for this first story, I've had some time to get over the embarrassment.

When Gabriel was 5, we lived in Maine. The town we lived in had a large population of Somalian immigrants. Gabriel went to school with them, so I'm not sure what was going on in his mind when this incident happened. Xavier had just turned two when we visited the library. He was riding in a stroller on the way up the elevator. In the elevator with us was a little Somalian girl who was probably around 4. She kept staring at Xavier and, finally, reached out a hand to rub his hand. Gabriel jumped between them and said, "Don't touch him. You'll turn him brown!" I was overcome with embarrassment. Of course, what was there to be embarrassed about? It wasn't as though I had taught him that. After years of reflection, I've come to the conclusion that most embarrassment on parents' part is unwarranted. It is all about how we think other people perceive us, and probably causes more problems than any other parenting neurosis. (Besides which, most of the Somalian women spoke very little English. I'm not even sure she understood what he said, since her expression did not change at all.)

Another, even more humorous event, was when Xavier informed us that he didn't want to be "peach" anymore, but would much prefer to be "brown." Now, this was especially humorous since I had always wanted to be black when I was a child. When asked whether he wanted to be light brown or dark brown, he said, "Dark brown, like Ms. Coleman." Ms. Coleman was his beloved preschool teacher, and he loved everything about her.

1 comment:

  1. We were at a park once and another family was nearby - fortunately not too close. I have no idea why one of my kids decided to discuss them, but he was certain that it was a father and his children, but he couldn't figure out who the woman was, because she was white and not brown. I couldn't believe that he didn't realize she was the mother simply based on behavior, and when he argued with me, I pointed out very good friends of ours where the mother was not African American, but husband and (hence) all kids were. My son didn't get the connection because my good friend, whom I saw as a caucasian, had Mexican grandparents on one side, so her skin was olive-y and she tanned nicely, and he saw her as "brown."

    My husband's XO is very dark skinned, and we've had him to our house on several occasions for dinner. The first few times, Mary just stared at him with terrified eyes and I think she mentioned his skin color, at least I knew that was why she was scared. Living on post, we had far more acquaintances of different backgrounds. Living in this small town, most everybody is white.


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