On the topic of skin color

I recently read an article where a black mother wants to inform her child’s white friends that they should be aware of how black people experience racism so that they can help their friends to combat it.

I have struggled with this article for a while.  Oh, and I’m white – I think I should disclose that, although I long for a time when that won’t matter one way or the other.

I completely understand why this mother wrote the article. Completely. My issue is not with the article itself; my issue is that I don’t want to tell my children that black children may be treated differently.

Why? Because ANY visual difference in a person may lead them to be treated differently and I don’t want them to linger on that specific physical trait. Glasses, skin color, disabilities, deformations, etc. I don’t want it limited to just, “Langston is black and so for perfectly stupid reasons, some close-minded morons may decide that he looks scary in a hoodie. So, stand up for him if that happens.”

In reality, I want my children to stand up for ANYONE who experiences wrongful accusations or unfair treatment for any visual characteristics. I don’t think that I want to call out black specifically. I am hoping that the world gets past it so I don’t want to call attention to it. Does that make sense?

When my kids were first noticing that our neighbors had darker skin, I would help them refer to the neighbors visually. Like “the lady with the long hair” but with skin color since they were small and wanted to point it out.  I would say “did they have light skin or dark skin?”. To me, this was the most accurate depiction of every race of a person. From my mother’s side of the family with olive skin “kind of light” to my kids with light skin and reddish hair. To the kids from school from Sri Lanka with dark skin. They’re not “black” as we know it in society, but their skin is just as dark.

So what happened? School. In school they taught history and everything referred to blacks and whites. That’s just not accurate enough for me. I’m still trying with the light vs. dark skin – we’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I’m happy to report that my oldest son stood up for his geeky friend to some bullies. It’s kind of a visual identifier if you think about it – given that he dresses differently and carries himself in a less-confident posture.

I just think that NOTICING physical traits are part of life and we should not call attention to any in particular as part of the education of our young before it happens.  To prepare them for what what small-minded people may think or say might work against us. We may unwittingly skew the perception of our children by making them look at their own friends differently than they have before. It’s OUR burden to bear that we know what happened (and are horrified by) from so many years ago. I think that separating that visual trait from other noticeable traits is how we got into this mess in the first place.


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