11 Comments

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.

Thabo Conversation

Part of Conversation

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.

http://teamoyeniyi.com/2012/03/31/equality-does-not-mean-sameness/

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. 

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11 comments on “Colour blindness, bigotry, parenting, Thabo and me

  1. Noticing the colour of skin is no more racist than noticing that I am short or that one part of my anatomy is larger than average is discrimination. Staring is not racism although continued staring IS bad manners. In some cases, reacting differently to someone who is an Orthodox Jew, for example, may simply be an attempt not to accidentally cross a cultural line of which one is unaware. Diffidence when approaching someone with a disability or other ‘difference’ can again be fear of crossing other boundaries.

    Bigotry, intolerance, prejudice .. it is all intolerable, no exceptions. I am not, in any way trying to belittle the damage done or under estimate the high incidence level. We should call it out, politely and appropriately, wherever and whenever it raises its head (personal safety and the wellbeing of the recipient allowing). But, as illustrated by the Lagos example, we also must not assume the worst of people. After all what offends me may be perfectly acceptable to someone else, and not knowing can cause me (and I suspect others) to behave oddly.

    Lets not ignore the problem, bring it out and shine a light on it. Let us teach our kids the rank stupidity of those thought processes. But let’s not make this a white versus the rest issue either

    Having said that, and I hope I’ve expressed myself clearly – a wordsmith I’m not – understand the 140 character dilemma! Words are so powerful but can resonate so differently between even those with similar backgrounds. Give me numbers anytime!

    • Thanks Jan! Yes, I knew basically Thabo and I agreed – we’ve talked often enough – but the perspectives due to language and our different backgrounds was leading to confusion – not to mention the 140 characters! :)

  2. I have lived in a few places around the world, not visited, but lived, and my parents were widely traveled people and my upbringing was one in which racism was considered ignorant in the extreme. I judge people by what they say, the way they say it, their non verbal communication and the look in their eyes; my experience from many situations in life is that primarily paying attention to the aforementioned human attributes is a survival skill that modern humans have lost and sadly it has been replaced by the embedded and entrenched narrow and unhelpful thinking that the concept of nations and ‘races’ has over centuries created. Of course in my childhood, and therefore beyond, cultural differences were noted and the view was to respect cultural differences. Like the lady whose story you published I have taught my children the same things my parents taught me. The main idea being that there is only one race on this planet and that is the human race; it seems foolish to me that anyone would take any other view. Additionally on a scientific note we, human beings, do of course all come from Africa originally, as archaeology, anthropology and the science of DNA have clearly shown. It’s no use any human being claiming they are different to others as we all share a common ancestry and if anyone says ‘well that was a long time ago’ then I would reply that it wasn’t really long ago in terms of the age of our universe, let alone our galaxy or solar system; for me it’s always the sad part about wide spread ignorance that most humans consider a millennium a long time, when the whole life cycle of our small little planet is very brief in universal terms. On a penultimate scientific note it can be hypothesized that if global warming continues and UV levels rise, a couple of hundred years will see human evolution lead to the end of the existence of fair skinned people on this planet as only those with skins designed to survive high levels of UV light will proliferate, so our descendants will evolve into dark skinned people in order to survive. Finally racism can’t even be said to be childish because children have to be taught such a concept.
    I personally don’t understand racism, really I don’t. Few concepts elude my understanding, but racism I don’t understand. I can only surmise that racism is a psychological impairment for which, as yet, we have no corrective program to help the sufferers of what must be an embarrassing condition to have in the 21st Century. (By the way there’s no irony in that last statement; no intended humour. I really think that a racist human can’t be considered completely sane nor can they be considered psychologically balanced. In order to make it clear that I’m not joking about this I’ll repeat that in another way; racism is a form of insanity, as far as I’m concerned, and we need to find a way to cure people of it so that they can lead normal lives).

    • Richard, that you for your thoughts. I particularly like “racism can’t even be said to be childish because children have to be taught such a concept.”

      Interesting also you mention the thought of dark skin becoming the norm again. I wouldn’t be at all surprised. White skin evolved as a survival mechanism is colder climates. Dark skin, as you say, could well become the survival mechanism of the future.

  3. Unfortunately, there will be those who are bigoted, whether it be race, religion or colour. How your family deal with it will say more about themas people. I do not see the colour of someones skin unless they say or do something which brings it to my attention and make an issue of it. I see people for who they are. However, recently I came across a blogger whose main focus was being black and she complained that when, as a woman travelling alone, people looked at her because she was black. I wanted to reach out to her and say maybe the problem was not her colour, but the fact she WAS a woman travelling alone in a male dominated country. I know the country she was referring to and there are a lot of black people there and the culture is diverse. My dilemma was I did not want to seem racist but she was making such an issue of her colour that it annoyed me. I felt she was looking for discrimination when none may have existed. That said, I can’t possibly know what made her feel so insecure. She was complaining not many people left comments on her blog, but as a white woman who travels alone I felt excluded as she def saw colour. Can you imagine the hoo ha if I started a blog about white women travelling alone? That would def be racist and I would not have even considered it.

    I hope you understand by my clumsy example what I’m trying to say.I read your twitter stream with Thabo, and sometimes words/vocaubualry or even sentence structure and style do fail us when we are trying to explain something.

    The O kids are great and reading your blog posts and theirs, well balanced. I’ve said before you are great parents.

    I think in time your kids will look in peoples eyes and understand whether a comment is racially motivated with intent ot hurt, or just a casual remark with no racial motivation.

    Not sure I’ve explained myself well here.

    • I know where you are coming from Pip. Yes, bigots exist everywhere and come in all shades and shapes, I agree. To a degree, I don’t blame some from ethnicities that have been oppressed being reverse bigots (for want of a better term) but I also believe that doesn’t move us forward either.

      I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I can never know what it is like. I can’t feel what my husband feels when the shop assistant refuses to take the money out of his hand, as if he is a leper. I can’t ever feel what the family of the movie “Whitewash” went through. If you have never seen the movie, try and get it – it is amazing. The true (with some artistic licence I am sure, all movies do) story of Clarence Brandley http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0314886/

      If you get it, let me know what you think! :)

  4. I could tell you many stories about growing up mixie in the depths of Devon when a different face was rare but that’s for another day. In Nigeria I was Oy Igbo, the strangest thing because here I am black and there I am white!
    Just last weekend I went into a shop in a Hampshire village – where they get a lots of tourists, but not ones that look like me, and the shop keeper did a double take and didn’t smile. I could tell she just didn’t know what to think. I found it hilarious and really wished I could have done a broad Nigerian accent.

    • I would have to say you are in rather a unique situation of having the experience of being both! :lol:

      Yes, the reactions of some to an unexpected and previously inexperienced difference – whatever it may be – can be, I think, one of shock. Hence the lack of a smile.

      Definitely sad you couldn’t pull off the accent!

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