May 06, 2004

Conversation at the Dry Cleaners

So The Boy and I are waiting for Mike, of the eponymous Mike's Dry Cleaners, to retrieve my newly-cleaned clothing. We're alone in the establishment until a tall, slender, black gentleman walks in.

The Boy: (in all his Aryan blonde glory, pointing at the man) That's my dad!

(possibly the whitest white girl to ever lack melanin): I'm sure that's news to him, son.

Man: (laughing) You know, I've never gotten that comment before.

Me: I don't imagine so.

Bemused silence.

I know why The Boy made the comparison--the stranger was male, tall and thin, just like Hublet. Skin color doesn't really register with a two year old, or if it does, it's about as remarkable to him or her as noticing that cats and dogs have different colored fur: just surface detail, nothing more.

So here's the question for the ages: what are the odds of preserving that mindset?

Don't answer that. I don't think I want to know.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at May 6, 2004 08:12 AM | TrackBack

Don't worry! As long as you don't label or even distinguish color, they won't either. Julia even told me recently - she is in a somewhat diverse kindergarten - that her friend had "dark skin". I thought this was an appropriate and keen observation and it had zero notions attached.

My very close relative by marriage, however, has made it a point with her children to emphasize color. She will notify her children when a "Black girl" is playing nearby or to avoid the "blacks" in their neighborhood. To my relative's mind, this kind of talk is downright inclusive. And granted, it is compared to other things she has said! Still, it is creating and indeed, "preserving the mindset".

Good luck. Parenting is one big complicated maze o' madness.

Posted by: Belle at May 6, 2004 09:32 AM

The Boy's perception of skin color and other superficial characteristics will come from you. He'll take his cues from you.

Hubbie and I have always distinguished between people based on their behavior. That is what our sons learned.

Case and point...

Once, we read a story about Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey when my boys were about 6 and 3 1/2. They didn't understand why people didn't want Jackie to play nor why people hated Branch for recruiting Jackie. After all, neither of them was mean or a jerk.

I told them some people think what your skin or eyes or hair or body shape looks like is more important than the kind of person you are.

Six year old says that's stupid.

Three and a half year old adds on that even in our family of 4 we don't all have the same skin color.

Years later, my boys use the schmo/non-schmo (jerk/non-jerk) system to determine who they want to play with.

And since you, BAW, differentiate between people based on a moron/non-moron scale, I don't think The Boy's mindset will have cause to change.

Posted by: di at May 6, 2004 10:24 AM

I remember that when my daughter was three years old, and very much into colors, I asked her what color she was. Surprised, she looked at her arm, turning it this way and that, and finally said, "I fink I'm beige." After that she occasionally mentioned that so-and-so at daycare was beige or "bwown". I liked that because beige and brown are on the same continuum, unlike black and white, which are polar opposites.

It wasn't long, though, before she started using the terms "black" and "white" to refer to people. Her daycare teacher told me that one of the little black boys had started coming in very depressed and surly, and it turned out that his parents had explained to him that because he was black, white people would dislike him and he would have a difficult life. The (black) daycare teacher had to talk to these toddlers, then, about that fact that people come in different colors and so forth, to try to undo the damage. She was furious with that child's parents for doing that to him, but I'll bet it happens a lot. Anyway, I was sorry when my child had to lose her innocence.

But you can't let them go through life too naive, they will not thank you for it. Some time ago the local state university had a huge uproar because the newspaper printed a picture of a group of black students playing cards in the student union. They were sitting next to a window and you could see that it was raining outside. The hapless girl whose job it was to come up with a caption wrote "A fine day for spades." They made her life hell.

Posted by: Laura at May 6, 2004 01:42 PM

As well they should have. Duh. I still remember seeing my first black person. Everybody I'd met till then was white or Mexican or Mexican-American (really -- at the time and place, there were no other Latinos). All I remember is that he was very nice and what I now think must have been incredibly patient about a little white-haired white girl asking him how come his hands were pink on one side and brown on the other. It was just so cool to me. I think he said God made him that way. Whatever it was, it was a very positive experience, but also I think the first time I realized that people came in different shades.

Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at May 6, 2004 03:59 PM

I distinctly remember in kindergarten noticing only one difference between the black girls and the white girls: the black girls all got to wear those cool little beads and braids in their hair. My hair just wouldn't do that. :-) I think I later picked up the black/white distinction from my otherwise saintly mother who came from a difference generation and equated "black neighborhood" with "bad neighborhood."

BAW, I think you and Hublet are the primary molders on this issue in Boy's mind. I'm pretty sure I've managed to raise my kids with a different attitude than my parents did...

Posted by: Margaret at May 6, 2004 04:00 PM

I wish I could still say I was a Christian, because one of the things that resonated the most for me is the part of the liturgy where "we are all brothers and sisters in Christ."

IF you can impart that idea, that we are all at some level equal and related, your child will grow up with the ability to see individuals, not stereotypes.

Posted by: liz at May 8, 2004 01:58 PM

The confrontation between black and white exists from the ancient times.It's just like a struggle between the evil and the good.

Posted by: Marina at August 27, 2004 03:07 AM