Hello Darkness My Old Friend...
The other day, TinyE and I were on our way sledding with her friend “Roni.”
The girls were gabbing away as toddlers are wont to do, and then, TinyE said –
“I wish my skin was lighter.”
Her friend replied “Oh TinyE, the outside doesn’t matter, what matters is the inside.”
And one million thoughts swirled through my head.
Here’s a sampling:
Why does my five year old daughter wish her skin was lighter?
The schools are clearly talking about tolerance and race and ethnicity, and etc.
Do TinyE and “Roni” really believe what they’re taught?
Do they really believe that skin doesn’t matter?
Or is it just something they memorize like the words to “We Shall Overcome”*
At age five, has she already observed something about the world?
Did she observe something about bias in her school?
As a child, did I ever feel that way? I guessed that I did.
Is TinyE showing, the smallest, faintest glimmer of an emerging self-esteem issue?
I found myself thinking about skin color and about the tendency, even among my people, to express a bias toward people with lighter skin.
I wondered what issues my daughter (who has a father with ancestry traceable to Africa, and a mother with ancestry traceable to Europe) will face.
I thought then about gender and class and style of dress and style of speech and hobbies or interests and all the ways we heap expectations on people, all the ways we define people we don’t really know.
But perhaps most of all –
I wondered why, at moments like this, I treat my daughter like she’s five. Why don’t I ask her why she feels that way? Why don’t I share my experiences with her? What am I waiting for?
Does not my silence now portend a more damaging silence later?
It is in keeping with my character,** but that’s no excuse. There are times when silence is wrong.
Parenthood often presents examples to prove that point.
*Which they sang in the car only moments later. Both of them know they words, even though they go to different schools.
**I’m not confrontational, in fact, I’m conflict adverse. For example, last month, I had the great good fortune to attend a basketball game between the University of Minnesota and Ohio State. The Buckeyes (Ohio State), with their sublime septuagenarian, Greg Oden, crushed our Gophers (who are in a rebuilding year or years). In the waning seconds of the game, a woman sitting in front of us, turned to friends (sitting behind us) and, speaking right past me, said that the Gophers should have played their “black team.” To sharpen her point and heighten her dullness, she added, “you know, the more athletic players.” I had two thoughts that day. First, my favorite Viking saying - “the half wise are everywhere,” and second, that’s kind of funny, because if you have a choice between me (black, but decidedly non-athletic) and my brother-in-law (white, but legendarily athletic) for your team in a pick up game of hoops, I can offer no better advice than this: pick the white guy!