Sunday, February 13, 2011

Brown Skin

I am struggling with whether or not to make this post. After 35 minutes of staring at a blank screen (And after nearly a week's worth of internal analysis) I figure if I'm still considering writing it then perhaps it really is neccessary.

I'm not a bigot. I don't see color, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or economic position when I look at someone's face. I feel lucky in that regard because I know there are people who DO see those things. I personally know people who waste days (weeks?! months?!) of their lives being upset by issues that involve these types of things.  I've never struggled to see beyond a person's "packaging" --- being blind to these things has always just come naturally. I've never realized what a blessing that 'blindness' was ... until last Monday night.

Isaac is 8. He is in the 2nd grade in small rural school. He sits everyday in a combined 2nd-3rd-4th grade classroom with a total of 12 kids in it. For most of his life he has been surrounded your typical-for-this-area-white-population. And for his entire life I have always classified him as part of your typical-for-this-area-white-population.

Or, at least, I think I have. I've never sat down and made a decision of whether Isaac was white or not. It never crossed my mind. It never mattered to me.

If you look back through his bio-dad's lineage and my lineage you will find traces of English, Irish, Dutch, Norwegian, French, Native American, Greek, Australian (honestly, I don't even know what that would be called...), and probably a few others. But the bottom line is, when I look in the mirror I see a white girl. And when I look at Ike's dad I have always thought "white guy".

Now, set that thought aside for a minute. I'll come back to it.

Last Monday night Isaac came home and did his homework like normal. Halfway through his social studies worksheet he looked up & said, "Mom. So-and-so doesn't like me." At first I thought, 'Oh great -another kid dispute to settle.' But what he said next blew me away.

"So-and-so said they didn't like me because of the color of my skin."

I investigated the story a little more thinking that he possibly misunderstood the little boy's words. After hearing the "whole story" it seemed that no, in fact, Isaac did NOT misunderstand the boys words.

Josh and I spent last week discussing the situation and talking to the parents of other kids who were witnesses to the comments/mis-behaviors.

It turns out it wasn't just one comment. It has been a series of comments and incidents spanning over several weeks. The comments & the actions of the child in question were really terrible & my first instinct was to post all of the gory details for the world to read. But, I stifled my 'mama-bear instinct' long enough to see things a bit more rationally. And I'm glad I did.

You see, since the whole thing unfolded a week ago we have spoken with the child's parents & it appears they handled it the right way. They were just as devastated that their child would say/do such things as we were that our child had to have them said/done to him. The child who was responsible has since called Isaac and apologized. He also displayed what seemed to be genuine remorse. As long as it never happens again, I am willing to chalk it up to a kid making a judgment that he really didn't understand. The parents are good people & I trust that they have handled it the way it needed to be handled. I have high hopes that we won't see this type of thing between these two kids again.

Had this been an instance of "So-and-so doesn't like me because I wear Sponge Bob underoos." Or "So-and-so doesn't like me because I sleep with a night light." Or some other ridiculous reason that kids come up with to 'not like' one another, we wouldn't have made such a big deal out of it. However, when it comes to things like treating someone differently because of the color of their skin, I feel it is important to make a stand.

We've had several family members comment to us, "I don't get it... Isaac has the same color skin as the kid who said it, doesn't he?"

That's exactly my point. It doesn't matter WHAT color a person's skin is. I have a beautiful, popular neice who spends time everyday feeling bad about herself because people tease her for being too white. An albino. Pastey. You name it, they say it. They say it in a friendly, joking way --- but it still gets to her. Should it? Probably not ... but it does.  The words of our peers can have a tremendous impact on us --- positively or negatively.

Earlier I made a point to discuss Isaac's background. I mentioned several nationalities that make up our little boy's heritage. During the summer Isaac does get dark. And this time of year, he is pastey like his mama. However, when the other kid looks at Isaac he sees "brown skin".

So we left it with Isaac like this:

"Son, there are a million things about you that are different from everyone else in the world. You're going to meet people who love those things about you & you're going to meet people who don't like those things about you. You don't get to choose who likes what. The only thing you get to choose is to be happy with who you are --- no matter what anyone else says. It's your job to surround yourself (whenever you can) with people who build you up & when you have to be around people who are cruel -- be kind to them anyway."

(Oh ... and I might have thrown something in there about how ridiculous it would be to 'not like someone with brown skin'. After all, there are 32 women in Red Lodge alone who pay Isaac's mama on a weekly basis to spray their skin brown. Heh.)

As far as the interaction with the other little boy, I think this story is over. There is another element to this story that has not quite unfolded all the way yet. Since that part of the story isn't completely finished at this point, I'm just not comfortable writing about it yet. But, rest assured, I will. Feel free to check back in a few weeks time to see what the heck I'm talking about. :)

For now, Happy Sunday all.


  1. Sigh. Man, kids (and some adults for that matter) will just find anything to poke fun at... And even when we weren't 'aware' of it before or even when we're confident, comfortable with ourselves, 33 yo women, and someone drops a note commenting on your 'red forehead,' it strikes a nerve, and b/c we're human it most likely always will.. What matters is how long or how much we let it bother us.. and by the sounds of the way you guys handled it (bravo, btw) with Ike, I bet it'll be sliding right off his back in no time (if it already hasn't!).

    One more note, you can imagine how much Mike was 'teased' for being a 'chink', squinty eyes, etc. as a little guy growing up in mostly white Michigan... I think it helped mold him into one of the MOST kind, empathetic human beings on earth.... truly. I've never heard him say an unkind word or 'dig' about anyone, ever... in 9 yrs... that's like, sainthood or something isn't it??! lol May it have the same effect on your 'brown' eyed boy :)

  2. So true, Sara. At 29 I still struggle from time to time about what others think of me. I hope & pray on a daily basis that Josh's confidence & 'Who-cares-what-they-think' attitude will be something that Isaac picks up from him. :)

    And on another note, I am obviously more oblivious than I originally thought. I'm shocked by what you said about Mike's background. I am ridiculously naive when it comes to spotting ethnic differences in people. But one thing is for sure, if Isaac turns out to be even HALF as kind/compassionate as your husband, I will be a happy, happy mama.

    Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  3. well said, Nik...I too am cut of the cloth that worries way too much about what others think/say/do/etc about me/mine/etc. I'm not quite sure where it comes from, but I have a really hard time with it (you said in a different post about not crossing a busy street, etc...that's me all the way and then some). I try to teach my girls better and hope that I in some way succeed, as I would much rather have the "who-cares" attitude. I'm not one to judge but know many people very willing to do just that, so sad really, that in this day and age, we are still battling this issue and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. My work on me is a constant everyday action to help with my fear of what people think, and wouldn't wish it on anyone. I hope this situation does help your little man to become that much more accepting/kind/etc than he already is.....ok...not sure I am even on the same page I started on...haha...the train has left the with that, i'm done :) looking forward to your next post on this! :)

  4. Thanks, cousin! I appreciate your input! Im laughing because of your "the train has left the station" comment ... I think that 'derailment' is hereditary! It happens to me all the time! Ha!