The summer after we got married, we drove from Virginia to Texas to visit his family. The best man in our wedding, who happens to be Filipino (and also very dark), came with us. On our way home, after more than a week in the Texas sun, we stopped at a Tastee-Freez in Podunk, Arkansas for lunch. The parking lot was full of pick-up trucks and Harley Davidsons and the diner was full of rednecks and Hell’s Angel types.
When we walked in – one whiter-than-white girl sandwiched between two very brown boys – the whole place got quiet. People actually stopped eating and stared at us. They whispered behind their hands. It was very disconcerting and I tried to tell myself we were in a small town, off the beaten path, where everyone knew everyone else, and they were just wondering who we were. But I knew that wasn’t it. We looked different from anyone in the place. Well, I didn’t, but my ex and our friend did. Uncomfortable, we got our food to go and left. Back in the car, we made light of the situation, joking that the Tastee-Freez gang probably thought I’d been kidnapped by two ‘foreigners.’
Sometimes bigotry just slaps you in the face.
You wouldn’t think that I, the whiter-than-white girl, would have had occasion to feel the sting but, in fact, bigotry has slapped me more than once. Since I was a teenager I’ve surrounded myself with people who are different from me in various ways and my association with them has often resulted in prejudice rearing its ugly head. Most of the time it's come from strangers but, sadly, there have been times when its ugly head has been masked by the faces of a few of my own family members. I remember the first time it happened – the shock and disappointment and sadness and anger I felt. I remember the last time it happened – the shock and disappointment and sadness and anger I felt. I hate it when it happens.
I’ve taught my daughter to be proud of her beautiful brown skin and the features that affirm her Hispanic and Native American heritage. I’ve also taught her that what’s far more important is what’s inside her heart and her head; that we are all people first and foremost. Our ethnic, cultural, religious, spiritual, and educational differences are important, because they are what help to make us individuals, but we can peacefully co-exist, regardless of how different we are. We can and should embrace the things in ourselves that set us apart and learn from others, taking what we love for our own lives, respecting what we don’t.
And she gets it. She’s accepting of everyone; she sees our ethnic differences and she appreciates them; she doesn’t view them as a barrier. Her idea of beauty encompasses the typical and the atypical. Even at nine, she thinks on a surprisingly global scale. She tries to understand the things that make us different… she’s still working on the whole respecting part in some cases (but to be fair, so am I).
This morning she told me a little girl in her class couldn’t do a report on James Armistead Lafayette, one of the most famous patriots during the Revolutionary War, because he was black and her father wouldn’t allow information about him in their house. This is the same child who wasn’t allowed to attend a play about Martin Luther King last week, or perform during the Christmas show because one song was being sung in Spanish. When I heard about all of these things, I felt sick and sad and angry. I asked Ryan what she said to the little girl…
Ry: I just told her that she doesn’t have to think like her dad, Mommy. I said that I hope she doesn’t think that way because if she does, we won’t be able to be friends, since she won’t approve of me or my family. (Note that Ryan has cousins who are half-Mexican and half-black)
Me: What did she say?
Ry: She said she likes me and she doesn’t think like that.
Me: Good. Then there’s hope.
I simply don’t understand the pervading mentality of intolerance for diversity and cultural differences that exists in our world. I believe it will destroy us if we can’t, as a race – the human race, change our thinking. When I spend time with my friends in ‘real’ life and in Blogland, I’m lulled into thinking that everything is changing. Then I get slapped again and I feel the sting. But kids like Ryan soothe it. I just hope there are enough kids growing up now to soothe the world. Kids like these little ones...