I was blogging the other day about race.
Ok, I wasn’t really blogging about race. I was blogging about how to teach your kids not to point out women’s mustaches in such a loud voice. But, the blog post ended on the topic of race with my son asking me “Are we black?”. And, I have to admit, that’s a totally reasonable question from a child. It’s the kid version of the same long-winded conversation we all seem to be having lately about the meaning of race and whether we’ve made any progress as a nation in our understanding of each other. My kid wants to know if he’s black. To him, black is a color. A pretty-easy-to-define color. He’s never met anyone who was literally “black”. Just like he’s never met anyone who was literally “white”. We’re all a different shade of beige and brown. And our color changes throughout the seasons.
As adults, we know what “black” and “white” mean. Or we think we know. But, try explaining it to an 8-year-old. Try explaining Trayvon Martin to an 8-year-old. It’s really complicated and totally simple at the same time. This weekend, my husband and I needed to explain the Trayvon Martin situation to our kids. In a way that would make sense to them, but not scare them, but not oversimplify the issue. It was difficult. It was not black and white (pun sadly intended). We had to touch on skin color vs ethnicity and perception vs reality. My kids went from confused to sad to angry to scared. My kids, like my husband, are Hispanic. And they get pretty dark for much of the year. At least as dark as some of the African-American people we know. My son now knows that he’s not “black”. But this weekend he asked us “What if I grow up to be black?”.
Part of me knows that’s a silly question and that I still have a lot of teaching to do with my kids about race. But part of me knows that’s a serious question coming from an honest, scared place inside my son. He’s figuring out that the color of your face can be a deadly serious issue. And he looks in the mirror and wonders. Should he be scared? To him, prejudice makes no sense. To him, hoodies and affirmative action and hip-hop and race riots mean nothing. He’s only 8. He doesn’t know the important history or the rich context. Yet.
That he lives in a world where brown and beige really mean “black” and “white”. And “black” and “white” are so much more than colors.