Colour blindness, bigotry, parenting, Thabo and me
A couple of days ago a South African and I (we follow each other) ended up in a conversation on Twitter about colour blindness and racism. I believe I understand what Thabo was trying to say, I just wished he could find a better way to say it!
To me, colour blindness is a good thing. The classic example would be our Brown Cupcakes experience. Why did the woman even notice Miss O 2 was a different skin tone? That is what I mean by colour blindness. I don’t get up every morning conscious that I am the only Caucasian in my home.
This is only part of our conversation, as there were other threads, but you can see the thrust of it.
As you can see, we agree – it was just the words we were having trouble with.
When I was in Lagos, people looked at me. Of course they did, I was “different”. The only other Caucasian I saw was the American Express manager in his office. I am “different” in my own home. I guess my family need to be colour blind (or wear sunglasses). I am always mindful that if I go somewhere where I may be unique in the experience of the local people, I will be looked at with curiosity. I tell my family to expect the same thing in reverse. If we go to some parts of Australia, there will be people who would never have seen a person with black skin, children especially. They WILL be curious, just as people looked at me curiously in Lagos.
Earlier this week The Opposition Spokesperson for Immigration infuriated me. I was even more angry when Miss O 2 came home from camp and told us a boy had said “why don’t you go back to your poor country” and later when she was wearing black leggings, asked her if that was her skin. I have placed the responsibility for this sort of treatment of my daughter firmly at the doorstep of Messrs Abbott and Morrison. If they were not frantically inciting moral panic in the electorate for personal political gain, such treatment of children would not be so prevalent in our community.
Today a lovely woman who wishes to remain anonymous (but gave me permission to publish) shared a parenting story with me.
I just wanted to tell you about my daughter …
About 18 years ago when she was small ( really young 2-3 but able to have conversations) I didn’t drive… and our town was VERY white ( barely any different now ) one day we had gone to another suburb via public transport. The train station we were at had many many white people and many Asians, but NO Black people.
Suddenly down the ramp of the station a man who was VERY dark and tall and thin came walking. He stood out as he was so different to everybody else that was there at the time. I waited till he walked past us and then whispered to my daughter (who when I said you could have conversations with, I mean you really could) and said, ”DID YOU SEE THAT MAN WHO WENT PAST … I want you to know that there are people who would not like him … just because his skin is so dark….. and I want you to know that the people who do not like him are VERY VERY WRONG. “
Now some people might think that was strange and you may well too, but while she may not have actually noticed him (he did stand out because he looked a little different to everybody else) I wanted her to learn from a young age about empathy and compassion and how wrong some views are. AND DIFFERENT does not mean bad.
A year or so later as I walked her up the street to a play group run by the Anglican Church, where I over-heard a conversation. These women were talking about a Japanese woman and her daughter who had attended a few times and saying how glad they were that she had stopped coming because THEY didn’t really fit in.
That was the first and the last time we attended that playgroup. I made a point of finding where the Japanese family lived and barged into their lives. Well, I knocked on their door and asked if they would like our children to play together.
I wanted to share these rather boring stories with you because I wish other people would accept the minor differences we have between us. My daughter benefited so much from her friendship with the little Japanese girl, as did I with her parents.
One day people will stop being so hateful about skin tone – but they will find SOMETHING else to pick on.
I get so damn frustrated with racism but it must be harder for you as you have to LIVE it and I just wanted to tell you that I admire your strength.
I will fight racism when I can. My ramble was about how I TRIED (and succeeded ) to show my daughter skin tone/eye-shape/ etc are no different to hair and eye colour – makes us interesting but no better than one another.
I don’t want to dismiss our *differences* and ignore them: celebrate them, admire them, NOT PRESERVE THEM (as the white supremacists want to do). I love looking at a person and seeing those *differences* and knowing it tells me a little about where they have come from (ancestrally speaking).
This woman’s thoughts about celebrating our differences echo sentiments I expressed some time ago when I wrote:
We are all individuals, each one unique. I don’t want us to ignore all the differences as if they don’t exist: I want to be able to share the differences, laugh about the differences when they result in amusing experiences or situations. Acknowledge the differences, look at them in the light of day and realise these differences are nothing to be scared of – remove the fear and perhaps the prejudices will also be removed. For what really fuels prejudice? Fear. Fear of the differences. Fear of the unknown. If we ignore differences, if we pretend differences do not exist, the fears are never eradicated.
Her thoughts echo Thabo’s and my discussion – accept human diversity. Knowing Thabo is South African, I know he will have experiences I can never have. I know his perspective about colour blindness and what it means to him is different to my perspective.
In certain respects Thabo is 100% correct and I am again reminded of one of my favourite YouTube videos you will have seen before if you are a regular reader. If you are not, please listen to Tim.
So being colour blind can be good, and it can be bad. I wish the little boy on the school camp or the woman in the hair dresser had been colour blind – my kind of colour blind. Yet I recognise there is another side to being colour blind, the side expressed by Tim Wise so eloquently.
Perhaps we need to find another word.
If we want our children to accept diversity, we have to lead by example and that means SPEAKING to our children. If we are silent, the ONLY examples they get are the examples at school, or heaven forbid, at the play group mentioned where the little Japanese girl wasn’t welcome. Explaining to a child yes, there IS a difference and what SOME people may say about it is WRONG is not being racist or bigoted. It is raising your child responsibly, in my view. When my kids started at school, I expected kids to go home and announce the newcomers. I HOPE their parents talked to them.
There is also a movie I would recommend. Whitewash: The Clarence Brandley Story. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.