Just a few months after my daughter arrived we were pushing her in a carriage around campus. We lived in faculty housing and happened to run into one of the other instructors at the school. He was an elderly gentleman. Professor of History. He oooed and ahhhed appropriately over our new baby. And then he asked in hushed tones, “Are you going to tell her she’s adopted?”
I had to fight back a smile. My husband stood there looking stunned. The professor waited patiently for an answer.
“I think she’s going to figure that one out,” my husband said.
Our daughter is Asian. We are Caucasian. Yes, it will be obvious to her soon enough.
Privately, my husband commented on what a silly question that was. But I didn’t think so. I think it was a beautiful question. An amazingly beautiful, wonderful question. It meant that he didn’t see color of skin. He saw a precious baby girl. And from his generation, a generation that often didn’t discuss adoption, he wondered if we would. Her skin color was of no consequence. It wasn’t even apparent to him.
THAT’s the kind of world I want to live in. Where skin color is of no consequence. Where we don’t distinguish between brown, black, pink, olive, or white. OR where skin color is mentioned simply as another physical identifier, like eye color or hair color. When my boys were about 3 and 4 years old they would comment, “The boy with the brown skin” or “My skin is lighter than Mommy’s skin.” At first I bristled. How do I tell my boys it’s impolite to point out someone’s skin color? But then I thought, if they said “The girl with the red hair” do I tell them that it’s impolite to notice hair color? So, I let it go. And it became a non-issue.
But what about when we are forced to label ourselves? On a form for college, I was asked to check a box that described my race. The choices were: Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, African-American, other. I choose ‘other.’ It asked me to explain. I wrote: Irish-Scottish-German-French-American but I prefer to be called ‘Euro-American.’ And never mind that there wasn’t a choice to appropriately categorize MY ethnicity – little American mutt that I am – what about the other black cultures out there? Not every black American is from Africa. What about Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, the Middle East? And as my husband pointed out, maybe we should ALL check African-American because, after all, mankind originated from a region in Africa.
How about when we celebrate our skin color publically? African-American Bloggers Conference, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, The Billboard Latin Music Awards, Ku Klux Klan Parade. Oops. That was a bit politically incorrect. Yes, I know the KKK is a hate group. But they are celebrating their skin color. And think about it. If a group of white people get together, excluding all other skin colors – it’s racist. If another skin color group gets together – it’s a celebration. How is that promoting acceptance? It’s exclusionary. It’s preferential. It’s cliquish. It’s wrong.
I’m not perfect. I’ve made judgements based on skin color. I try very hard not to. I fight stereotypes and try to block the thoughts as soon as I notice them. But then there are times when I just don’t like the person. A professor friend of my husband’s once said, “Racism denies me my God-given right to detest the individual.” Sometimes it’s simply the inside of a person we don’t like.
If we are going to preach that ‘what is important is on the inside’ than we have got to stop noticing the outside. Appearances must be a non-issue. And you can’t exclude yourself to celebrate the color of your skin and then come back to the real world and expect to be noticed and valued for your abilities and character only. If you join groups that focus on skin color then expect to be defined by your skin color.
I want to live in a colorblind world. I want to be valued for my insides. I want my children to simply be noticed as brother and sister, not adopted one and biological one. A world where skin color is just another physical characteristic like short or tall. Racism will simply be an archaic term to describe an unhappier time. No labels. No celebrations based on looks. Please tell me we’re not that far off.