Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon 1973
I have always said that kids do, indeed, notice the color of one's skin. They just do not assign a value to it. Ah yes, it is up to us adults to instill that in our children. Start 'em early, that's what I say.
To be sure, Gentle Reader, when your mother is obviously 10 shades paler than your father, you tend to notice. When your mother has a sense of humor that is obviously 10 degrees more wicked than your father's, you notice. And then, you take notes.
When all else fails, we find comfort in humor, right? And yes, Manoj has learned to be somewhat wicked in his humor. I suppose living with me for all of these years would break even the most purest at heart. This would be the spot where I openly admit we enjoy teasing our children that we are going to give them to new families (in addition to the idle threats involving transactions with roving bands of gypsies.) And, to be fair, we mix up the colors of the mama and daddy pair. Sometimes, both parents are brown, sometimes both white. Sometimes mixed, with a switcheroo on the particular ethnic pairings. Always, our kids giggle, because they know we are teasing. And as Anjali emphatically declares "NO, I want a white mama and a brown daddy."
Manoj and I will not know for a long, long time if we are doing the right thing when it comes to discussing race, color and ethnicity with our children. But I do know that I want the dialogue to be open, because that is the most important piece in all of this.
This morning, Arun and I were at breakfast together. I love these meals, just the two us while Anjali is at school. As Arun dug thoughtfully into his pancake, he struck up the following conversation:
Arun: Mama, is India where all the brown people come from?
Me: Um. Not really. There are brown people everywhere. And there are even white people in India.
Arun: Really? Cool!
At this point, I realize this might be a good place to start a small, watered-down discussion of racism.
Me: Also, did you know that there are some people who don't like other people just because they are brown. Can you imagine? Not liking someone just because they are brown?
Keeping in mind that "not liking someone" is serious, not-be-trifled-with business to a 5 year old.
Arun's eyes grow big.
Arun: Really?! Do some people not like white people because they are white?
Me: Yes, that happens, too. And someday, Arun, you might hear someone say something not nice about Daddy or brown people. What do you think you would say if heard someone say that?
Arun: That it is stupid.
Me: Yes, it IS stupid.
Arun: Well, what about Daddy's friend, Tom? He is brown. Do some people not like him because he is brown?
Me: Sure, I bet someone out there is really jealous of his awesome tan.
At this point, I start laughing. At all of it. My 5 year old boy's sweet, pure innocence and the fact that a man with a kick-ass tan is still considered "white". And let me be clear - stupid is not a bad word in our house. It is not allowed to be directed towards people, but it allowed to be directed towards actions and ideas. The thought that someone would denigrate someone based on skin color IS stupid. I am not going to lie to my kid just to appease the Word Police who would have all of us ban a perfectly good word from our vocabulary.
I ended the conversation by telling Arun that he is both white and brown. Sure, my boy could have probably passed for a White Man With A Damned Fine Tan, but no - instead, we saddled him with his phonetically-challenged name thus permanently stamping his differences. This morning, I did not make a big deal about his Mixed Palette Status, I just casually mentioned it and he did not question it. We finished our breakfast and moved on to bigger and better topics. Namely, which flavor of bubblegum he would get to purchase as we checked out. He is 5 years old, after all. There will be plenty of other opportunities for me to explain the far more serious ramifications of racism.
And in the meantime, I will continue to secretly hope those things will not exist down the line.