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?"
"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.
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