now he knows he’s black

one thing i love about little kids is they make friends with everyone. it doesn’t matter what color a kid is, what size a kid is…a friend is a friend is a friend. there’s no black or white, brown or yellow. if only the world could be as color blind as small children.

about a year ago i showed dutch, my five-year-old son, this picture:

i told him that his lolo (his grandfather) was in this picture and his response was, “look at lolo with his brothers!” and all i could do was laugh.

see that cool white dude sittin’ up there on the fence? that’s my pop. dutch didn’t make a color distinction when he saw this picture. he just saw his lolo with some other dudes and thought, they must be brothers.

and you know, i thought that was pretty daggone cool. especially knowing my pop and his feelings about his friends that he grew up with in his s.e. dc high school. they were brothers. black. white. it didn’t make a difference.

not to them anyway.

yesterday dutch brought home a book from his school library about jackie robinson. me and my husband were excited about his choice because up until this point he’s picked out books about wolves and sharks and crocodiles. so we were all siced, like yeah, jackie robinson!!

but you know, there’s really no way you can tell jackie robinson’s story without mentioning that although he was great, he endured a tremendous amount of racism as the first black baseball player.

so here it was, the moment when i’d have to explain skin color to dutch. black is not a description he uses to explain himself. black? he doesn’t know anything about being black. ask dutch who he is and he’ll tell you he’s five and he’s a big boy (of course, because he’s five now, remember?) and he wants to play football when he gets older and have a black motorcycle. but this book all of a sudden brought color to the forefront. black. white. differences that he never paid attention to.

so i explained his skin color to him, and also that i’m half black and half white. i told him that he’s black and so is his daddy and brother and most of his family. it was an interesting experience to say the least and yet another thing i’ll add to the checklist of things my friends and family didn’t tell me about parenthood.

it’s not like telling my son he’s black is information i was trying to withhold from him. i mean, really, imagine that! but honestly, it wasn’t a conversation i was necessarily ready to have. reading a book that tells about the horrible experiences jackie robinson dealt with at the hands of white folk, and then saying, and oh by the way, you’ve noticed you’re lolo and your nana are white, right? was a wee bit awkward.

obviously, we don’t live in a colorblind world and in time dutch will learn more than enough about his blackness and the injustices that blacks have experienced. but i want him to understand that not all white people are racists who just want to keep the black man down.

i’ll tell him that although some white people hate black people, i was never a shame to the white side of my family. in fact, my pop’s brother was mixed also. i realize that my experience growing up biracial in the washington, dc area is different from what many other biracial women experienced. sure, i was the lightest brightest thing in my anacostia elementary school and i was later teased and called oreo when i transferred to pg county schools in maryland, but it never fazed me because somehow i had a strong sense of self about being mixed. i just figured that the other kids had the problem and not me.

one day i’ll tell dutch about how his great-grandmother (my paternal grandmother) worked for a black man named andy who disrespected her and treated her horribly, but when he became older and had no family and nowhere to go she took him in her home because that’s how big her heart was. i’ll tell him that when my grandmother passed there were more black folk there than white folk because people loved my grandmother. and not because she was a little nice white lady, but because she was a good woman. period. a lil’ feisty in her younger years, but good nonetheless.

oh, and andy? well, he outlived my grandmother and as my grandmother wished, he stayed in her home. i’ll tell dutch about how his lolo went over to see him, took him to doctors appointments and cared for him just like family, and when andy became elderly and ill and later passed it was my pop and stepmother who were there. his ashes sit on a shelf in my pop’s home.

me and dutch talked for a little while yesterday about skin color and i’m not sure that he fully grasped it all. in time he will. and i can’t wait to share the stories of our family so that he will know that although skin comes in different shades, it ain’t always about color. as corny or cliche as it might sound, it’s what inside that truly counts the most.


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