One of my friends posted a link to an article about children and racism on facebook today. It reminded me of a story I've wanted to share but keep forgetting.
When Camden was younger, I really tried to teach him that everyone was the same, regardless of color, sex, or anything else. It was an effort I made intentionally. I've always tried to make sure he is exposed to people with many differences instead of only having him spend time around people that are similar to him, in whatever way. When I went back to school and became a student at Berea College, I really appreciated the diversity of the student body. That's one of the many things Berea College is known for, and I knew it was an incredible benefit for my child to be exposed to people of so many different races, from so many different countries.
Another aspect of BC is that every student has to work on campus as part of its labor program. Freshman year, I was placed in the library cleaning. Our boss was a wonderful lady that I still keep in touch with, and she would always have tons of baked goods at our meetings. At one meeting, Camden was with me, and we were sitting across from two other BC students. They happened to be black. One had darker skin, the other lighter.
I can't remember the question at this time...but I clearly remember that Camden was saying he liked one better than the other because it was a lighter brown. I remember the boys both kind of trying to laugh it off a bit, and I definitely squirmed in my seat, quite embarrassed. Was he saying he liked someone better because they had lighter skin?? Was this my son making a racist comment??
My son was talking about the types of fudge that were on the table in between me and the other boys. There was some chocolate fudge (dark brown) and peanut butter fudge (light brown). He wasn't talking about the people in the room at all. He was simply saying he liked the peanut butter fudge better, but he didn't realize why they were different other than the colors!
What did this show me? A lot. Mainly, the rest of us were so ready to assume that a simple comment was a racial one. We were quick to assume that a child was talking about the color of someone's skin before we even let him finish or show what he was talking about...which was right in front of our faces. This wasn't just ME assuming this, it was the other two boys, as well. The child in the scenario, the one making the comment, did nothing wrong and made no negative remarks. It was the adults that so easily jumped to race.
This was an eye-opening experience that has stuck with me. It reminded me that children often see past things like the color of someone's skin, and comments that have nothing to do with race can often and easily be mistaken as such. Why? Because that is what we often (and sadly) expect. Children are so innocent. They *learn* what they are taught. Racism doesn't just happen naturally on its own.
As parents, we have a lot of power when it comes to what our children learn. I try to make conscious decisions in many regards to ensure that my children are exposed to a variety of different people, places, beliefs, ideas. I want them exposed to great diversity. I don't want them going to all-white schools or schools where everyone is in a similar SES. I don't want to live in a neighborhood where all of our neighbors look the same. I do not want them to ignore that there are different races and colors of skin, eyes, hair, whatever. No. Differences are to be celebrated! Differences lead to learning, as well. I do want them to see that each and every one of us has differences as well as similarities...and that while they might like fudge that is lighter or darker in color...the color of someone's skin means absolutely nothing in regards to whether that person should be valued more or less than another.