“I wish I lived in an all white world.” This shocking statement
came from my 5-year-old daughter. It was three decades past the days
of the civil rights movement. I thought the world was done with
racism. At the very least, I was done with it. And this was not how
we were raising our children!
My husband and I had carefully considered our move to a racially mixed neighborhood. Our idealistic hope was that our children would be, in essence, color blind or as one of my favorite authors put it “color blessed.” I wanted my children to judge a person by their hearts and not their skin.
I knew what had precipitated the comment. We had just been at the grocery store and while waiting at the curb my children witnessed several young black men in a car grab the purse of an elderly Asian woman. The woman struggled to keep her purse, screaming and crying, and it seemed as though they might drag her with their car as they sped off. It was traumatic to watch a crime unfolding.
But I knew that my daughter was making a mistake that is often made by children and the immature. It’s called “generalization.” Babies call all four-legged animals “dogs” and all round objects “ball.” Many a toddler has bruised an apple they tried to bounce like a ball. My daughter was obviously judging all people of color by a few mean ones. I could hardly explain this psychological concept to my 5-year-old but I sensed a teachable moment.
“Elisabeth, let’s pretend that you do live in an all-white world.” She and her siblings ages 3, 7, and 9 were all for a game of “let’s pretend.”
“Now what are we going to do about Andre and Antoine?” These were two of my children’s favorite neighborhood friends and they were black.
“Well, they could come in.” All the children were in agreement.
“What about Diana?” Diana was a Vietnamese friend from church.
“Yes! I want Diana there too!” Elisabeth was getting excited. As the benevolent dictator of her pretend world she could only let in the people that she wanted. Now she was ready to run with the idea.
Elisabeth then asked, “What about Hector?” Hector is from Cuba and a young adult. My children had been awed by a demonstration of his karate skills. Anyone who could bash a board in half with their head was definitely welcome in their constructed world.
All the children yelled, “Yes! Hector!”
“Elisabeth,you don’t have an all-white world anymore do you?” I asked.
“No ma’am,” she replied.
It was quiet in the back seat for a long time. Then my daughter spoke. “I wish I lived in an all nice world.”
I have never quit longing with her for an all-nice world. When events like Charlottesville expose the opposite it’s a wonderful antidote to be reminded, by peaceful demonstrations of unity against hate and for love, that such a thing is possible.
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