Saturday, March 29, 2008

colorblind and beautiful

Little children have a way of loudly speaking out whenever they notice characteristics in people that are different. Within the past few months, I have discovered that their outbursts can be cause for serious embarrassment.

When we saw a wheelchair bound man waiting in line at Target last month and the three-year-old loud questions and observations began, I leaned down and said to the children "Isn't he beautiful?" When we saw a woman who had obvious burn scars across her face while at the zoo, and the three-year-old loud questions and observations began again, I leaned down and repeated "Isn't she beautiful?"

One day last week, while I was swinging Henry in the baby swing at the park, an African-American woman was pushing her five-year-old daughter in the swing immediately next to us. We exchanged brief pleasantries when her daughter - looking over at Henry - leaned back and said "Mama, that baby looks like my baby brother Omar." The mother laughed, and then said "I suppose maybe a little bit, but your baby brother is black."

I thought that this little girl was just trying to be funny, but when we came home and I was flipping through a photo album of our family members with the children, Carolyn began enthusiastically pointing to a picture of my bald, pale skinned, 100% Irish brother-in-law and shouted "Mommy, look there's Doctor Johnson!!" This caused me to take pause because Doctor Johnson is our African-American pediatrician.

Not much escapes our children, but it makes me happy that they are more aware that their uncle's glasses are similar to their pediatrician's, that they don't even notice the vast difference in their skin tones.

It also makes me happy that when we were in the airport last week and saw a little person, a woman who was standing next to us at the sink in the restrooms, Elizabeth looked her square in the eye and said "You are tiny, like me!!"

And then she sweetly added, "You are bootiful."


  1. What a wonderful gave me goosebumps. Great job teaching your children to see the beauty of all people!

  2. When my oldest daughter was about three we were in a grocery store. She kept trying to get my attention, but I was in a mental La-La land. After trying to get my attention for a few minutes unsuccessfully, she suddenly burst out, "LOOK MOMMY THAT MAN LOOKS LIKE A PIRATE!". I glanced over and saw a man with a patch on his eye. I wanted to sink through the floor and die. He simply laughed which eased my embarrassment.

  3. I love your idea of whispering "Isn't he/she beautiful?" instead of berating a child for making comments.
    And the story about Elizabeth just brought a tear to my eye.

  4. I've been in those situations before and love that idea of telling them people are beautiful. One was an obese black lady (why is she so big!?! mom??!)
    A little girl with an eyepatch (Look mom a pirate)
    Hunched over older lady (Why is she walking bent over!?)

    That great Elizabeth said that at just the right moment :)

  5. I live in an island inhabited mostly by white people (Iceland). I remember THE black guy (and his name) and THE black girl (and her name) of my town when I was growing up. They were the only two in a relatively big town (by our standards). One moved here and got married, the other one was adopted by her parents while living abroad.
    We now have a little more diversity, and there was one latin american and one african american in my son's group in daycare. After at least 2 years of spending 5 days a week with them (one of them his close friend), my boy (at 5-6 years of age) noticed that their eyes were darker than his.
    The skin tone? Still didn't register.
    So we seem to be teaching our kids about differences (like the lady in the park) more than they are noticing them.
    I wonder if it would have been politically less correct if your situation had been reversed:
    No, this baby doesn't look like your brother, bc he is WHITE...

  6. What great stories.
    When my son was in first grade he was trying to explain to me who "Cubby" was - a boy who would turn into one of his best friends to this day. He said "He's the one who sits two rows over, kinda in the back, he wore a red shirt today." He never once said "He's the Black boy in my class." I was really proud then too, just as you should be of your kids.
    If only all adults could see people through the eyes of a child.

  7. i love your idea of saying, "isn't she/he beautiful." it reinforces the belief that different is just as wonderful. thanks for the good idea.

    also, i've really been enjoying your posts lately. they are hitting home. thanks for sharing.


  8. Your post is 'bootiful' :*) Put another jewel in your tiara. If only everyone taught their children to be so kind.

  9. That is beautitful:) What a sweet girl you have!

    One of the kiddos I care for (I'm a nanny for six, a 6yo, 3yo quads, 1 yo) noticed a man with an eye patch in Target the other week. She nudged her sister and whispered "yook, there's a pirate!"

    I should have told her he was beautiful,. :)

  10. What a beautiful post. You should be so proud of yourself.

    Now if only EVERY parent could raise their children to be color and handicapped blind. What a wonderful world it would be.

  11. Am I the only one that thinks it's not necessary for children to be "colourblind"? We all have different skin colours, just like eye colour, hair colour, disabilities, etc. I don't see the point in purposely pretending to not see it when it's true. If anything ignoring it makes it seem like a bigger deal than it really is.

    It always makes me laugh when people go out of their way to purposely pretend they don't notice someone's skin colour. Like "Did you see what that guy just did?" "Which guy?" "The one standing on the left side of the room, with black hair, and a green shirt." "That guy?" "No, the one with umm the white shoes... standing next to the lady with the blonde hair..." Instead of just saying, "The black man on the left side of the room!" (I mean when adults do this, not the child mentioned in a previous comment.)

  12. That's really sweet, Jen. So far, by the grace of God, I've escaped any LOUD comments from my kids. But I'm going to use this if it happens. Very smooth. I guess my kids have never noticed any differences yet. I never thought about it.

  13. Anon: I don't think there is anything wrong with children recognizing that people have various skin colors - or handicaps - or are generally "different" from them.

    As cliché as it might sound, I hope that they will see the beauty in everyone, regardless of their color, size or shape.

    I'm very glad that Elizabeth had the response that she did. It certainly beats the last time we were in a similar situation.

    Here's the link to that post...

  14. Anon -
    I don't think anybody is trying to suggest we IGNORE skin color or go out of our way to never mention it. But there are times when it simply doesn't matter. Like if you are saying somebody cut you off in traffic, it is not necessary to say "Some Hispanic man cut me off" or "Some Black woman cut me off." That's what I hear a lot - people mentioning race or ethnicity when it really doesn't matter, when it's not to identify a specific person.
    Also, when my first grader didn't mention the color of his friend's skin, I wasn't about to say "You really should have just said 'the Black boy'." What would be the point in that?

  15. This is a truly beautiful post!
    So, have you tried revisiting the Mexican place since last year? I laughed all over again when I reread that post!

  16. hw - I get what you're saying, and I agree. I think it's just the term "colourblind"... it implies that you shouldn't even see the skin colour. It makes it seem like a negative thing. I know that's not what most commenters here are talking about though. I also agree that sometimes people use skin colour as a descriptor purposely in a negative way (like "That black woman cut me off.")

    And of course I wasn't meaning your son should have said "That black boy." But I've been in situations where adults are trying so hard to be ultra politically correct, that they will do everything they can to pretend that they didn't notice what colour the person's skin was. When really, if there was one white person in a room full of black people, they would have no problem saying, "That white guy." But they are afraid to say, "That black guy."

  17. Hi there,
    I'm completely stumbled onto your site by mistake, but I wanted to thank you for sharing that beautiful story. Your children are so sweet and beautiful, and the way you deal with their "rude" comments is so sweet. I love the idea of saying "Aren't they beautiful?". Amazing!

  18. I love your way of addressing this issue! And isn't it great that kid's are oblivious to the differences in skin tone? I remember when I was in 1st grade overhearing my mother mention to someone that my older sister was the only "white" child in her school class. I remember wondering why that mattered enough to mention it. I really think racism is something adults teach children and am grateful my parents did not teach it to me.

  19. Wonderful post!

  20. Anonymous -
    I also see your point. I think sometimes we bend over backwards to show people that color doesn't matter to us. Again, kids have no problem with this either. When my son and his friend were looking at pictures of a football game he said "Look Cubby, there you are." And Cubby said "That's not me." and my son said "Then who's big black arm is that?" It does seem to me that kids have a balance that most adults don't.

  21. How sweet! I bet that woman is telling that story to everyone she meets. SO cute!

  22. Awww, that made made my eyes leak.... how sweet was that?

  23. I was 11 when my twin brothers were born. I had a close friend, Jason (who was black), that loved my baby brothers as much as me. And at church, he would often sit with our family in an effort to help with the kiddos. One day, when the twins were about 4 or 5, one of them stared at Jason for the longest time. He patted Jason's cheek and with a very surprised tone said, "Jason, you're black!" We all got a good laugh out of it, including Jason, but I guess it surprised me that he had never noticed it. Jason helped take care of those kiddos since the first day we took them to church!