As I was walking in a church parking lot, to register for a craft show, I met a woman who was picking up her daughter from a Girl Scout meeting. As we went down the stairs, two girls about eight years old came out the door and started up the steps. One little girl said, “Hi, Mom.” The woman walking with me, said, “Hello, Megan.” The woman turned around and began walking back up the stairs with the girls. Then Megan asked her friend, “Is that your mom?” while pointing at me. Megan’s mom and I both slowed to hear the answer. The other girl looked carefully at me, almost as if not sure. I smiled. The answer came slowly, “Nooo, my mom’s a little darker.” Megan’s mom and I smiled. The little girl had not identified either of us by race or nationality. Megan obviously had no idea that there was any difference between any of us, either. As you read this, you may surmise that we were of different skin color. We could have been from the same racial heritage, with different coloring. We could have been from widely different racial heritages, but you will never know for certain. As the children perceived us, they saw no difference and placed no importance on skin. I want to thank their parents.
Lest you think this is an isolated incident, I will tell you of another. While living in the South Bronx, in a racially diverse area, there was group of people, of which I was a part, who were attempting to reclaim an apartment building and turn it into a co-op. We were from all walks of life, as well as widely divergent ethnic groups. Many people confused a young woman, Gail, with me. While we were similar in build and coloring, there were many more differences. We were both addressed as Pierre’s wife. Perhaps the neighbors really believed he had two wives, but I doubt it.
One day, two neighborhood boys, Thomas and Tony, were visiting. There were four adults present – Gail, Pierre, James and I. Between the six of us, three races, and at least eight countries were represented. We were of quite distinctly different height, coloring, and features. The only two who were even remotely similar, were Gail and I. Thomas asked whether James, 6-foot, 6-inch and stocky, and Gail, 5-foot, 4-inch and slender, were brother and sister. In addition to the height and weight differences, there were coloring and feature variations. James seemed shocked, and asked, “Do we look like we could be brother and sister?” The boy answered, “Yeah, why not?” Tony said, “Sure; are you?” James said they were not related. Then Thomas asked whether James and I were brother and sister. Again, the answer was no. Isn’t it awesome that children do not see these differences? Isn’t it awful so many are taught that those differences are cause for hatred?
That wonderful poem, which has been made into cards and posters, tells us that “Children Learn What They Live”. The truths contained therein are self-evident although I believe the author forgot to include mention of racism and discrimination. It is sad that the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s has not progressed enough to eliminate this type of discrimination and that there has been much racial profiling of late, which has expanded even more since 9/11. While traveling all over the United States, I have learned about bigotry in action, on a daily basis. You cannot imagine my shock and dismay as I experienced, as a witness, as well as, as a victim, the hatred of people for the color of their skin, and for speaking English poorly or properly, or for coming from another country. The only people who have not come from another country are still among the most discriminated against, and many of them are bigoted too. I have learned that this behavior is learned behavior. Children are color blind, and would remain so if permitted. I have shared proof of this.
Our grandparents raised my brother and me until we were eleven and twelve. It was not until I was in my twenties that I learned they had some prejudices. This made me wonder about an episode that happened after busing began to even out racial groups in schools. I was about eight years old at that time. One little girl of another race and I struck up a friendship. She would call me about homework and girl stuff. Then she invited me to her home to play. My grandmother said it was too far for me to travel alone, and that it was too expensive for her and my brother to go along. We would have to take a train and a bus – six fares – each way. I suggested we ride our bicycles, but it was too far and there would be dangerous traffic. I will continue to believe, as I did at age eight, that the reasons for refusal were purely financial and logistical.
In any case I will be eternally grateful, that if racial fear did play a part in my grandmother’s decision, that she found a way NOT to communicate that to me; that both she and my grandfather did everything they could, to see that I remained color blind. My parents are color blind too; I have been lucky. I hope I do as well in carrying on that tradition. I pray that the world begins to do better in this regard. As I often have in the past, I currently live in an area where I am the minority. As I was waiting for this to print out for editing, at the library, I had a conversation with the librarian. It was about our mutual fear of becoming our mothers. We are pretty much the same, in our basic desires in life. We want a good man in our lives. We want a better world for our children to live in. We have the same values and moral system. If we will all play our part honorably, there is hope. All we have to do is see the similarities, and rejoice in the differences.