Colorblind or clueless?

I like to believe that my kids notice character and personality more than physical characteristics when they meet someone new. I've tried to teach them that Heavenly Father made everyone a little different and that's what makes each of us so special. I've read them all the Max Lucado books and I've bitten my tongue when they've used green crayons while coloring faces. I've tried to be casual and feign nonchalance when the inevitable tactless comment flies out of their mouths while in public. You know the ones I mean - the ones that are only slightly less uncomfortable than being hog-tied and roasted on a spit.
"Look mom! That lady is really fat!"
"Wow, his skin is black like nighttime"
"I wish I had no leg."

Yeah, that last one actually was Jack (see side bar under "Say What?) At what age does the tact and sensitivity filter kick in? And now he's done it again, which just makes me wonder . . .

Last Wednesday we arrived home from our mini vacation just in time for Jack and I to attend the last 15 minutes of his teacher "Meet & Greet" at school. The only other parent/child combo in the room was a Nigerian man with his son. The boys played blocks and cars while the grown ups discussed the pertinent details of kindergarten. At the end of their mini playdate the boys exchanged exploding knuckles and Jack said goodbye to "black-skinned man" (referring to the boy).

Now, on the mortification scale, this experience ranked pretty low. I knew Jack's nickname was truly observational and veiled no judgement or disdain. But still I cringed and hoped the boy and his father recognized Jack's simple honesty and the pure intentions it sprang from.

Jack was excited to see this boy at school and came home after the first day with grand descriptions of the fun they had together. The next day this boy didn't come to school. Jack was sorely disappointed, especially since his brother and sister had both been there. Brother and sister? I was pretty sure that this little boy didn't have siblings in kindergarten. Jack insisted that he did; after all, they had black skin too.

Once again, my teeth clenched involuntarily as the heat of instant mortification flared across the back of my neck. No rational assumption could have led him to a conclusion of relation. Maybe my first problem is assuming rationality when Jack has provided little evidence of it in the past.

But what to do about it? It's not like my kids have lived totally sheltered lives, void of interaction with people of different races, from all walks of life. Addy attended kindergarten in the Boston public school district and was one of only 2 white kids in her class. We lived in North Carolina - while not the deep south, it's the south none the less. But southern California? Until Jack's comments I hadn't noticed just how homogeneous our immediate area is. I guess if we're going to be here for a while, I better make an exerted effort to ensure my kids start growing up a little less clueless.


Kenny and Linsey said...

I don't think you have a whole lot of control over this yet. I'm sure you're teaching correct principles, but they are products of their environment and when your environment is mostly your family with the occasional play date he is just trying to fit what he knows with what he sees. Caleb calls every Latin man we know or see (which is a lot) Carlos, because we have a very good friend who is Latin named Carlos. While not the same as calling him brown guy or something, for him as a 2 year old to think they are all the same person/name is very logical - at least I think so anyway.

I don't know if this will make you feel better, but the major reason why my parents moved us from South Carolina was because through no fault of our own and despite their best efforts we were growing up racist. It was 30 years ago and the civil rights movement was still having a trickle down effect and they couldn't think of any other way to help us than to change the scenery. I think the scenery in So Cal is sufficiently mixed and it will just take time.

Finally, how you kept/keep a straight face is beyond me!

abm said...

We solved the problem of having our kids environment be totally white, LDS - we put them in private school and now their best friends are from India, Vietnam and yes, even Utah. But of course we don't have the same opportunities you have in the public setting. Just saying that sometimes we have to create opportunities for our children to stretch.