Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Noah gets it

Before Noah came home one of the things that I read was that young children don't recognize race until they are about 5 or 6 years old. At first I thought that meant that Noah wouldn't know that he is black for at least a few years. Since he's been home I've come to realize that my initial understanding was more than naive - it was stupid. Of course he knows that he's black. He sees himself and he sees everybody around him, and although he's just beginning to finally know his colors, he gets that he looks different than practically everybody else who crosses his path everyday. I've come to understand that although children may not recognize that being black or white or brown matters until they are 5 or 6, of course they can see it.

Before we ever saw the first picture of Noah and knew who he was, we talked and talked about what issues we might be forced to confront as we raise this little Haitian boy in our very homogeneous, white community. Although we have encountered nothing but positive reactions to our family since he came home, we realize that he's still little and he gets a lot of positive feedback because he is different. (I'll save my very passionate thoughts on that for another post.) We know that we are going to have some difficult conversations with him and we know that there are going to be many teaching and learning opportunities for all of us and the people around us as he grows up as part of our family. It scares me sometimes because I don't want to screw it up for him. I really, really want him to be happy and secure and confident in our community, but I also want to teach him about his heritage and I want him to be proud and comfortable and secure and confident if his path takes him to a more racially diverse (i.e. black) community. I don't want him to ever feel inferior because of his differences and I want to make sure that he sees and hears positive messages regarding his race. We can control that in our home, but I'm not sure what he is going to encounter when he starts to venture outside our home. I worry about this stuff all the time.

Yesterday I got a big boost from Noah in relation to all of my worries. It was something simple, but very profound for me. I was loading the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher and getting ready to go give Noah his bath when they interrupted the Today show with an announcement that Barack Obama was getting ready to announce his national security team. I pulled up the ottoman and sat down right in front of the television to see what he was going to say. As he always does anytime I sit down, Noah immediately climbed onto my lap and we both sat there and watched. After a couple of minutes, this is what happened"

Noah (with a huge smile): "He's black too!"
Me: Uhhhhh . . . yeah he is! (as I'm thinking "Are you really big enough to make that connection??"
Noah: He's black and Noah's black!
Me: Yep. You're both black. Cool, huh?
Noah: Yeah. Cool.
Me: Do you know who that is?
Noah: Roc-O-Bom-O
Me: Yep. He's our next president.
Noah. Yep . . . our next president.

We haven't had a conversation with Noah about race yet. We've assumed that he's still too little for that. We haven't talked to him about being black, other than me telling him pretty much every day as I slather him with lotion that I love his beautiful brown skin. In our house, he's just Noah and I'm not really even sure who put the "black" label on it for him, but somebody clearly did. Other than election day, I haven't made an issue of Barack Obama being the name of our next president, but Noah remembered his name anyway. (Why can't he remember the simple things like blue vs. green??) After that mini-conversation yesterday, I'm suddenly very happy that for the next four (maybe eight) years Noah is going to see at least one black man in our home (albeit on the tv) whom he can confidently identify with.

I guess it's a really good thing that we live in a pro-Obama house, or this whole Obama being black could have backfired on us.


Lydia said...

That is cool that Noah will have many role modles in his life, black or white he will be able to become who he wants to be.

Ryan and Angela said...

Hey Julie. I think I am glad that I don't have to deal with race issues yet. Although Kathleen always says, "Mom, I love her dark skin. I wish I had dark skin." And I just say, "Me tooo," as we look on with jealous eyes at our neighbor, then at our sun-burning pasty white skin. Your boys are both beautiful and getting so big.