I’ve been meaning to write this for months, and have been waiting for when I have the time to "do it right" but that time looks to be over the horizon. So here goes.
Last summer one time we were driving north to Grandma’s, and as we drove by a particular gas station, Molly cried out "Hey! I know that place! I went there with my black Grandma, and my two white Grandmas!"
My wife and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows for a moment. For those that don’t know us, Molly’s so White that she glows. If there’s any "black" blood in her, it’s a lot farther up the chain than Grandma. So we asked her what she meant.
"Well, Momma’s mom is black because she has black hair, and HER mom is white, because she has white hair, and Grandpa’s mom is white too!".
It was then that I became fully aware of Molly’s perception of color and its relation to people.
In her mind, each person has a color associated with him or her. It’s very often a shirt color. At the playground she’ll make friends in about 4 seconds with a collection of kids, and they’ll be the Blue Boy, the Green Girl, the Green Boy ("Hey! they’re the same color!"), and the Orange Boy. When she refers to people by their color, I often tell her to ask their name. She does it, but it’s irrelevant to her. If she sees the same kid on a different day, she’ll say something like "Hey, he’s Yellow today."
Occasionally it’ll be hair color, like with The Grandmas. I think that’s when she sees someone often enough that she can’t rely on them to keep a consistent clothing color. I’ve watched though, and skin color has never been a choice. I think that’s because there aren’t enough choices, and she doesn’t know the names of the colors. People range from peach to true black, but in 5 kids on the playground they’re going to be so similar that trying to differentiate is far more work that looking at shirt color.
Molly’s almost 6 now, and I have yet to see any kind of discrimination in her. She recognizes differences; big kids, little kids, boys, girls, "color", but it apparently it has no impact on any decision she makes about those people. She’ll play with anyone. No-one’s ever been mean to her yet. I dread the day that some other kid tells her she’s dumb, or ugly, or doesn’t let her play for some stupid reason. It’ll be a betrayal for her, because at this point, All People are her friends. Bad People are like Scooby Doo ghosts. They only live on TV. We’ve told her there are Bad People "out there", but she’s never really met one. It’ll be a sad day.
I should make one caveat about her discrimination. Her favorite color in the whole world is Pink, and anyone wearing pink, or in a pink room, or owning something pink sits on the top of the pile of Humanity in her mind.
6 thoughts on “Colored People”
Yeah… so what is it that hits us between kindergarten and high school that turns us from a huge group of friends into dozens of cliques with enough animosity to kill one another? How great the Kingdom will be without sin to destroy innocent relationships!!
When my wife and I were first married, we spent about a night a week in a laundromat. One night there were two girls playing hide-and-seek. One girl was white and the other was black. Both were very adorable. When it was the white girl’s turn to find the other, she stopped to ask us if we had seen a little girl. Playing along we asked what she looked like. The little girl wrinkled her brow for a moment of intense concentration before telling us the other girl had pigtails.
When I read stories like you posted and think of my own experiences such as the one above, I become more convinced that attention to skin color is learned behavior. Children seem to instinctively recognize people as people and distinguish between them using criteria other than pigmentation.
jwise, I think the answer is pride. I am better than you and not as bad as that guy – even if only because my hair is lighter or my parents earn more money or I live in a different neighborhood. None of these things matter at age five.
I love this! I would have to agree with the above posting, my children didn’t recognize color until they were a little older and I always made sure if they referenced to somone of another color. I made sure they understood, you don’t refer to people by color. I never liked being refered to as “the colored girl or the black girl.” I liked Emily’s perception a little better and I pray more people can move past the color of a persons skin and see the person for who he or she is, a child of God, a spirit without color.
I agree with jtr that the answer to jwise is pride. I wish the change that happens between kindergarten and high school would not happen but it does make me look forward to heaven much more.
This is the “black grandma”. I must agree it would be nice to keep Molly’s color prespective and not let pride get in the way. And I don’t mind one little bit being the “black grandma”. She is one sweet child (as all my granddaughters are).
I really liked this post. I linked to it from billcreswell.com – hope you don’t mind.