Colour Blindness: Protecting your Child from Racism

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The average Trinidadian takes the beauty and inherent benefit of living in a truly cosmopolitan society for granted. A Trinidadian youth has the advantage of looking up to lawmakers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and others who have a significant impact on our society, and who all, in some way, look like him and represent his culture and values.
As much as North America attempts to be all-inclusive, it is generally dominated by the ‘White’ culture, where the impact of racism and prejudice can still be felt. That is not to say that our island is absent of the same.
A few years ago, at just three years old, standing at my side in a bank, in a small hick-town on the boarder of Texas, my son had his first encounter with prejudice. Without going into detail, all eyes were on me and the teller was now in my face, palms forward, making it clear that I could not be helped even before hearing my entire request. At this point, some choice Trini cuss words were stacked up in the back of my throat, just waiting for me to give them the green light. As the verbal onslaught was about to be unleashed, my son, oblivious to the rising tension, stepped forward and said a simple “hello”.
I gulped, tightened my grip around his little hand and left without saying another word. When I got to my car, I cried. I cried because I was convinced that I had let her – let them – win. I cried because for the first time I had allowed someone to make me feel less than who I knew I was because of the colour of my skin. I cried because this epitome of ignorance was still a part of the world that my son would be raised in. I cried because in his innocence he had given that bastard the sweetest, most open hello, when what she really deserved was a solid, brat-like kick to the shin!
Although I am certain that her actions do not represent the mindset of all Texans, I’ll humbly take my chances in a cardboard house in the middle of Caroni Swamp before moving back to Texas. Once the tears dried, however, I found myself grateful that my son’s colour blindness had protected him and he was left unscathed by the incident.
Flash-forward merely two years later, and he is not so lucky. This time, mommy wasn’t there and he is far more conscious and sensitive. Now in kindergarten, he comes home from school upset because his ‘friend’ told him that he didn’t want to play with him because “he doesn’t like people with brown skin”. My heart sank. I couldn’t undo what was said, so my job now was to counteract the damage. I referenced the beauty of the rainbow, telling him that it simply would not be a pretty if the red disappeared or if the blue went into hiding. In the same light, we were created in many different colours, so that when we stand together we look like a rainbow. I went on to say that the little boy was silly because his rainbow would be incomplete if he took out a shade of brown. Corny, I know, but he got it.
In an effort to clarify, my son then pointed out that it’s like our family. Pappa is chocolate, he is brown, his sister is golden and Mamma is yellow (yes, I need a tan). This childlike description brought a new revelation, however. In my effort to comfort him and to reinforce that his sapodilla-brown skin was absolutely perfect in every way, I had inadvertently made him even more aware that the shades of our skin do make us different – colour blind no more.
I suddenly realized that I had missed the target for some time. My aim should not have been to keep my youth colour blind. That gorgeous brown skin is very much a part of him, as are his long cornrows, tall stature and charming smile. All of these features are to be embraced and loved because they were carefully chosen by his Creator. These features, however, do not define him.
As a parent, I hope that he does see colour. I hope that he grows to appreciate the splendour of every shade. I want him to learn that good and evil, poverty and wealth, and virtue and immorality come in all forms – irrespective of the colour of one’s skin. I want him to be cognizant of the fact that in some circles the colour of his skin may mean that he will stand out more, and that is okay. However, it is only by the quality of his character that he should be measured. In the same vein, he too must judge only by moral fibre.
I pray now that as a parent I have equipped him with the tools, the confidence and the consciousness that if ever he is again faced with this dilemma, that his sad countenance will not be because his own feelings were hurt or that his self esteem was shaken, but because he feels pity for the poor soul whose rainbow is missing a colour.

The average Trinidadian takes the beauty and inherent benefit of living in a truly cosmopolitan society for granted. A Trinidadian youth has the advantage of looking up to lawmakers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and others who have a significant impact on our society, and who all, in some way, look like him and represent his culture and values.

As much as North America attempts to be all-inclusive, it is generally dominated by the ‘White’ culture, where the impact of racism and prejudice can still be felt. That is not to say that our island is absent of the same.


A few years ago, at just three years old, standing at my side in a bank, in a small hick-town on the border of Texas, my son had his first encounter with prejudice. Without going into detail, all eyes were on me and the teller was now in my face, palms forward, making it clear that I could not be helped even before hearing my entire request. At this point, some choice Trini cuss words were stacked up in the back of my throat, just waiting for me to give them the green light. As the verbal onslaught was about to be unleashed, my son, oblivious to the rising tension, stepped forward and said a simple “hello”.

I gulped, tightened my grip around his little hand and left without saying another word. When I got to my car, I cried. I cried because I was convinced that I had let her – let them – win. I cried because for the first time I had allowed someone to make me feel less than who I knew I was because of the colour of my skin. I cried because this epitome of ignorance was still a part of the world that my son would be raised in. I cried because in his innocence he had given that bastard the sweetest, most open hello, when what she really deserved was a solid, brat-like kick to the shin!

Although I am certain that her actions do not represent the mindset of all Texans, I’ll humbly take my chances in a cardboard house in the middle of Caroni Swamp before moving back to Texas. Once the tears dried, however, I found myself grateful that my son’s colour blindness had protected him and he was left unscathed by the incident.

 

“… his ‘friend’ told him that he didn’t want to play with him because ‘he doesn’t like people with brown skin'”

Flash forward merely two years later, and he is not so lucky. This time, mommy wasn’t there and he is far more conscious and sensitive. Now in kindergarten, he comes home from school upset because his ‘friend’ told him that he didn’t want to play with him because “he doesn’t like people with brown skin”. My heart sank. I couldn’t undo what was said, so my job now was to counteract the damage. I referenced the beauty of the rainbow, telling him that it simply would not be a pretty if the red disappeared or if the blue went into hiding. In the same light, we were created in many different colours, so that when we stand together we look like a rainbow. I went on to say that the little boy was silly because his rainbow would be incomplete if he took out a shade of brown. Corny, I know, but he got it.

In an effort to clarify, my son then pointed out that it’s like our family. Pappa is chocolate, he is brown, his sister is golden and Mamma is yellow (yes, I need a tan). This childlike description brought a new revelation, however. In my effort to comfort him and to reinforce that his sapodilla-brown skin was absolutely perfect in every way, I had inadvertently made him even more aware that the shades of our skin do make us different – colour blind no more.

I suddenly realized that I had missed the target for some time. My aim should not have been to keep my youth colour blind. That gorgeous brown skin is very much a part of him, as are his long cornrows, tall stature and charming smile. All of these features are to be embraced and loved because they were carefully chosen by his Creator. These features, however, do not define him.

As a parent, I hope that he does see colour. I hope that he grows to appreciate the splendour of every shade. I want him to learn that good and evil, poverty and wealth, and virtue and immorality come in all forms – irrespective of the colour of one’s skin. I want him to be cognizant of the fact that in some circles the colour of his skin may mean that he will stand out more, and that is okay. However, it is only by the quality of his character that he should be measured. In the same vein, he too must judge only by moral fibre.

I pray now that as a parent I have equipped him with the tools, the confidence and the consciousness that if ever he is again faced with this dilemma, that his sad countenance will not be because his own feelings were hurt or that his self esteem was shaken, but because he feels pity for the poor soul whose rainbow is missing a colour.

 

Image courtesy iStockphoto.com.

 

 

Check out the rest of this week’s issue (6/12/10; Issue 35):

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1 Comment

  1. TJ

    December 7, 2010 at 7:08 am

    thank you for this article. i too though by keeping my kids “colour blind” would have benefitted them (my kids are a true definition of calalloo- mixed with any kind of race you could think of)… untill they were witness to racism and their eyes were open to the different shades of people that exist. now i tell them to appreciate everyone equally it doesn’t matter the colour of their skin

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