Thursday, November 06, 2008

Boring Skin Pallettes

A good friend of mine served her LDS mission in Georgia, and when she came back to Utah (where she'd grown up), she complained that holy cow, the people here are so boring to look at. They all look the same!

Yep. I live in a very single-hued part of the world. Most people around here are of European descent (including yours truly), so you walk around seeing lots and lots of pasty white faces. Not much variation.

However, I never thought much about it until I became a mom. Sure, there was that one black kid in my class at high school. He stood out, but everyone adored him because he was a football star.

The first time the whiteness of our area became a concern for me was after the birth of my second child. (A lot of things suddenly become a concern when you're a parent, don't they?)

She had a bright shock of red hair. From the moment she was born, anywhere we went, people stopped to notice her and her adorable red hair. She was used to this. The first thing she learned in life was that she had pretty hair.

I was pushing her in a stroller one day when she was four or five months old. A woman who stopped us on the sidewalk, and bent down to coo at her, looked different. The woman was absolutely beautiful . . . and very black. Dark, dark black.

My daughter's eyes popped open, her mouth shuddered, and she burst into a wail. She'd never seen anyone like that before, and it scared her. I was a bit embarrassed, but I doubt the woman had any idea that this wasn't a regular case of stranger fear. I knew, because, as I said, my daughter was constantly approached and fawned over by perfect strangers, and she loved it.

It was a relief, then, when my daughter was about two and a half and saw a black woman on television and gasped, "Oh, Mommy! Isn't she beautiful?!"

A couple of months later, for her third birthday, she asked for a black Barbie. (Not in so many words, but she pointed out which one she wanted and made it quite clear that she would have nothing to do with the white, blond one.)

I was happy to oblige; having her play with a black doll was about as far as I could take race relations in our area, since, as far as I knew, she'd still never seen more than a handful of black people in her three years.

When my next daughter was about the same age, I took her to the grocery store. At the check-out line, she sat in the in cart and caught sight of a sophisticated black man in line ahead of us. He wore a suit and looked for all the world like Bryant Gumble's little brother.

My little girl stared. She pointed. "Mom! Look at that man!"

I knew exactly what she meant, but I wasn't about to go into a discussion about race right then and there. So I just said, "Isn't he nice? Can you wave at the nice man and say hi?"

"But his skin, Mom! Look!"

"Yes, I know," I said, face going red. "He's a nice man, isn't he?"

"But Mom!"

"I know. Wave at the nice man."

He waved at my daughter and smiled at me knowingly. I was glad he understood, but I still felt a bit silly.

My oldest child never paid that much attention to these things as a toddler, being too caught up in his own imagination at that age to give the rest of the world much thought. But he did have a sweet black boy in his first grade class, and I loved finding out how my son defended him (apparently he had a learning disability) and felt bad when some kids didn't play with him.

As for my youngest, I haven't had any experiences like this with her . . . yet. She seems to be more aware of differences and takes them in stride. Maybe I'm finally learning a thing or two about this parenting thing.

This is a long way of saying that regardless of your political leanings, I think it'll be a good thing for children who don't see a lot of racial diversity to see a black man leading the United States. There are some things that, as a parent, you can't really teach without help, and this is one of them.

In other news, my dear husband (and techno-genius) heard my complaints about my stupid e-mail issues as soon as he walked in the door last night. After a brief dinner, I ran out to my critique group. He, meanwhile, spent two hours on the phone and on e-mail trying to sort out the problem with our server. By the time I came home, it was fixed! I could sing! He pretty much rocks.


Cheryl said...

Your husband does rock. :)

I know what you mean about boring skin colors (as in it's all the same). Where I grew up, there was a large Hispanic population, and we lived right near the edge of a Native American reservation (Fort Hall). But I don't remember ever meeting a black person until college. Isn't that crazy? This is one reason I was so glad we lived in CA for the year we did because it gave my children a chance to see races and ethnicities from all over the world. The best part is when they don't say anything about skin color; they say "my friend so-and-so". The difference doesn't even cross their minds. This is what I'm hoping for in the future --skin won't even be a matter of discussion because who cares? We're all the same.
You know what I mean?

And Obama as president will deifnitely help us get there faster, for sure... (just wished I liked his policies!)

Cheryl said...

Clarification: I know what you mean about boring skin colors because of where I live NOW. :)

Don said...

I was fortunate to live the second half of my youth in Hawaii, where the skin palette is anything but boring. Living in Utah when my kids were born, I worried that they would miss out on the cultural diversity I learned to appreciate.

Fortunately, a lot of my friends from Hawaii now live in Utah, and when I would get together with them, my kids would play with their kids. The same happens here in Texas, though not as often.

My kids are very open to people who are different from themselves, and for that I am very grateful (and relieved).

Diversity is a beautiful thing, and I am happy that the recent election allowed us all an opportunity to discuss it with our families.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I have a similar concern. I grew up very multi-cultural Vancouver, living in Hicksville up north here is a bit worrying in that respect.

Good thing we visit the grandparents often!

Kristina P. said...

I actually had someone say to me, who moved here recently from California, that they were happy their children didn't have to live in a racially diverse area. My mouth dropped open.

What a tragic viewpoint.

Melanie Jacobson said...

I grew up in a racially diverse area and it was one of the best experiences of my life. This was a great post.

Josi said...

I grew up in Utah too, and we had exactly 3 black people in alllll my schools from kindergarten to graduation. They definitely stuck out, but I have to say that it was impossible to have a bad impression of the race because each of them were so dang nice. I just scratched my head when people talked about racism and not liking people who were different. I couldn't figure it out.

My freind's daughter saw her first black person and said "Look mom, it's Reading Rainbow!"

I truly believe Obama will change our nation in regards to race--and I'm excited to be a part of it.

*MARY* said...

My husband lived in China his whole life, so Utah is enormously diverse for him. When he first got here one of the first things he noticed was how different everyone looked, and all the drive thru restaurants.

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

My husband grew up in West Valley UT which pretty much means he grew up in the HOOD... :)

I have not so much...but where I live now, my son has many Hispanic kids in his class that speak little or no's been really good for him, plus he's learning Spanish for when he gets older and has to find a job! :) Great post!

Sandra said...

I grew up in New Mexico on the border. You can see the mountains of Mexico from my parents' back yard. I was a minority because I am white and LDS.

My baby is bi-racial. She is beautiful. She has that skin color that women pay boogoo bucks to get at a tanning salon. And in the summer, I tell her that she has spf50 built in. However, finding ethnic dolls for her to play with is a hard thing without paying an arm and a leg for them.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Your husband does rock!

Alison Wonderland said...

You can find colors in Utah you just have to know where to live. (See, that's why we live where we do, it's not because we can't afford a house in a safer neighborhood with better schools, it's because we like the racial diversity.) My cousin once went to pick my kids up from school and she remarked to me later that day, "well, you sure don't have any trouble picking your kids out of the crowd do you?" Nope. My blonde haired blue eyed kids are quite a departure from the black and brown hair and brown eyes. And honestly I LOVE that!

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, yes. He DOES rock.

Christian was the only pale pink face (and platinum blond head) in a sea of gorgeous brown at his preschool in Manhattan. It was something to see.

Jewel Allen said...

Well, I see different colors in my household every day :-)

I am of Asian descent, and my husband is European descent, and if anything he is the odd man out around here :-)

I do think that Utah is not as racially diverse as other places. However, there are so many people, return missionaries in particular, who are open to people of other races and cultures here. So it's more diverse than what can be seen on the surface.

It's hard to see past skin color to realize that we are really all the same deep down...but it's possible.

Julie Wright said...

Having a half Iraqi brother and sister, we felt a little racial diversity in our own home. I hated that my sister was tan all year long and beautiful with her big brown eyes and perfect skin. I hated my pale sickly lookig skin and felt jealous my whole life :) I still am jealous, but not in the bitter I-got-shafted way I felt as a youngster. I love that she's beautiful. I work hard to travel my kids to other places where they have the ability to see the world in all its variety in the hopes they won't grow up small town even if they're growing up IN a small town.
And your husband does rock. :)

LisAway said...

Okay, Annette. I just started writing a post, and decided I don't want to get into it today, so I switched to a different one and came straight here to check out your blog. Guess what? My half written post is about race/racism/ignorance. I'm still going to post it. Sorry if it seems like I'm copying. I'm sure everyone's thinking more about race than usual lately, anyway.

I grew up in So. California and looooved the diversity. There really isn't any where we live now, and I miss it sorely.

Great post. It's so interesting to see what experiences people have, especially in places where there is so little diversity.

(p.s. I hope to get a book or two of yours next time we're in the States. Awesome.)

Lara Neves said...

I was a little caught off guard by my daughter's questions about Obama's skin color. She has several other ethnicities in her class at school (even in Utah!) and when we lived in AZ, it was even more. But, I guess as a child there are always questions about why others are different from us.

Heffalump said...

I haven't had any really embarassing moments with my kids as far as race goes...but if they see someone with an eye patch they are pretty likely to yell out, "Look! A PIRATE!" Or, "It's the Captain!"
Luckily they are getting older, so maybe I can take them out in public soon...

Rebecca Blevins said...

I found you through Kimberly.

We live in a smaller city that until a couple of years ago, was mostly white.

Then they built a pig processing plant (I refuse to say pork) and we have a large community of Hispanics in the area.

I really need to learn Spanish, and I wish they'd learn English!

Anonymous said...

My kids are growing up in a very diverse area. And actually both of my sons are the only caucasian kids in their classes. Definitely different from ol' Utah where I spent most of my life. I really like the diversity here.


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