Friday, April 24, 2009

A touchy subject

Owen was looking at Paul's booklet from the Boston Marathon. On the cover, there was a picture of Robert Cheruiyot, an incredible elite Kenyan runner. He pointed to him and said, "That man is black."

My heart sunk a bit, and I'm not sure why. He was simply making an observation, with no positive or negative connotations attached. Owen himself often declares himself to be blue or pink, depending on which type of river dolphin he wishes to be. (This would make sense if you also lived in Go Diego Go! world. You see, Diego once helped a baby river dolphin return to the river, so it could become pink. Apparently, this is a real and natural phenomenon. But I digress...)

I guess I've always enjoyed the fact that Owen has the right attitude regarding outward appearance. Like Stephen Colbert, Owen does not see race. He's often mistaken African-American professional athletes for his father. Everybody from LeBron James to Plaxico Burress has, at one point or another, been identified as "Daddy." Apparently, Paul Campbell makes the Sports section of the Post weekly, often dunking balls or charging the gridiron.

Barack Obama has also been called both "The Bobblehead" and "Daddy."

I don't think that Owen's attitude has changed, but I do think that he is becoming more aware of differences. So, now I need to think about how to answer questions, if and when they come up. My catch-all answer will probably be, "People are different because God made them that way."

Owen will surely ask, "But why?" At this point, I could answer scientifically, discussing melanin and genetics. Or, I could further explain that God gave Owen brown eyes, brown hair, and pink skin because that's part of His plan. Likewise, he gave Joel blue eyes and blonde hair and big blue glasses.

I realize that this is just a variation of "Because God made them that way," but I hope that Owen will be distracted by a water faucet, and mercifully, drop the subject.

I guess I am, like a lot of the country, not as comfortable talking about race as I should be. It worries me that I must have referred to somebody as "black" at some point. How else would Owen know that term? Then, it worries me that I'm concerned about calling somebody black. Why should that term be any heavier than tall or short or skinny?

The reality is that race is a touchy subject.

When I was seven, I was at a pizza place with my parents. The boy behind the counter had terrible, terrible acne. I asked my parents, loudly, "What is the matter with that boy's face?" My parents shushed me and scurried me away. The boy behind the counter looked at me, and I knew that I hurt his feelings. I was ashamed.

Today, on our first outing with Joel (wearing his new, blue glasses), somebody joked, "Hey, where's Waldo?" I smiled politely, but it made me worry about the additional cracks Joel will endure in the name of clear vision.

Perhaps that's why I'm so sensitive. I don't want Owen or Joel to make anybody feel badly about his or her appearance, and I don't want the boys to feel badly about their appearances, with comments made either intentionally or in ignorance.

I want them to see people as people, and do a better job at this whole outward appearance thing than all the generations before them.


Coby Goesling said...

I thought of Psalm 139, esp. verses 13-16 when reading your post. When my pastor's son asked me, "Miss Coby, why are you brown?" his mom said, "Because it pleased God to make her that way."

It is a touchy subject, mostly I think because we're all so afraid of offending or hurting someone.

To make you feel better, my kids saw OJ Simpson on TV and said, "Hi Poppa!" (Poppa is what they call my dad). At least Paul hasn't been mistaken for OJ! ;-)

Nancy Campbell said...

Now that's the perfect answer! Angst, begone! "Because it pleased God to make him/her that way."

Perfecto. Thanks, C.