Children and race. It's not a subject that I am terribly anxious to tackle, but revealing truth is not truthful if only shared when convenient. I grew up in eastern NC and attended private school. The school was 99% lily white and so, I had little to no exposure to minorities in terms of race. My neighborhood and church also singular in race and the only two people of color that I knew, and quite adored, worked for my family, Clavon and Mr. Smith. Religious differences? Two of my dearest friends were Jewish and Mormon and it was of little significance to those little girls. In essence, I had no opinions regarding race and my childhood seemed colorblind.
My own children have had a far different experience, at least in terms of education. All four are in public school and since our town has just one elementary school, it reflects our community and their classrooms have more people of color than not. I wanted a different experience for them as I felt it was a disadvantage growing up with little exposure to folks different from myself. Diversity was added to my education with boarding school and I had my first real friend of color, a friend today. My best friend in grad school was African American too, and we spent as much time together as we did apart, studying, traveling and working. Today, my dearest friend of color is in her seventies and came to work in our home after our second son was born and so, though an unconventional friendship, we have confided in one another for nine years now.
Yesterday, I wrote of a visit to the park in which an older woman berated me for bringing my unleashed dog to the park. I put our dog's leash on and called my husband to come and get her and she lie at my feet as I pushed my son in the swing. The African American woman continued to rant and rave amongst my daughter and many children we both knew from my children's elementary school. I stayed silent, apologized several times, held my chin high and swallowed tears and my pride. I hoped I had done the right thing, but when I recounted the events to my husband, my daughter said, "Black people are mean."
My daughter is just seven, a first grader in public school, and she has friends of all shapes and sizes and colors. Truthfully, I've never heard her even use the descriptor black. No, this daughter of mine has always described her friends as pink, brown, tan, etc. and only then, when I would ask her to tell me what so and so looked like. People can be unkind and that has nothing to do with what color you may be, I told her. Kindness has to do with your heart and our hearts all look exactly the same, I shared. I named people that she knew and loved with shades of skin different from her own. What about them, I pointed out. Were they mean? No, she shook her head. Her words came from a snap judgement of a few minutes of a woman being mean to her mom. I was not totally innocent, had arrived with an unleashed dog, and likely, the woman was scared. Not one of us is perfect and we can all do better. Being unkind is not rooted in color and we must remember that our children are watching. Choose kindness for them.