Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Racial Awareness

Noah has figured out that he is black. We haven't tried to keep that bit of information a secret or anything, but I wasn't sure how long it would take for him to realize that he looks different than practically everybody else he sees everyday. I think it's safe to say that the realization has hit him. I thought the same thing when he pointed out that Barack Obama is like him too, and I was thrilled with his racial awareness. Yeaaaa Noah.

Then . . . we created his Mii on the Wii, he didn't want us to give him black skin. I reacted to that rather strongly thinking "Oh no! We are doing something wrong because Noah thinks it's bad to be black. We need to fix this immediately!" In reality though, I'm convinced that Noah doesn't have a problem with being black. Rather, he just wanted his Mii to look like all of ours. As soon as we showed him how cool his was and that it looked like him, he came around and was excited. Now, just like every other kid does, Noah starts squealing and jumping every time he sees his Mii on the screen. Not only that, but he gets just as excited when he sees a black person in real life. He and I were at Costco the other day and the cashier was black. Noah noticed the guy from the back of the line and immediately started pointing and saying "Hey! He's black too!" He said it multiple times and although I affirmed his observation, he didn't stop. Once we got to the front of the line, as he usually does, Noah started a conversation with the cashier. I wasn't sure how this particular black guy might respond to this kid pointing out the obvious to him and as soon as Noah opened his mouth I cringed a little bit because of the uncertainty of what might follow. It went something like this:

Noah: Hi!
Cashier: Hi!
Noah: What's your name?
Cashier: Sam. What's your name?
Noah: Noah.
Sam: That's a great name.
Noah: Yeah. You're black too.
Sam (smiling): Yep.
Noah: Is that pretty cool?
Sam: Yep.
we finished our transaction and he handed me the receipt
Sam. Bye Noah.
Noah: Bye.

Noah (smiling and whispering): Mom . . . he's black too.
Me: Yep.
Noah. Is that cool?
Me: Yep.

So, in spite of my initial worry, the guy was great and we all left the encounter smiling. Then we went to a grocery store and there was a kid stocking shelves on our aisle who also happened to be black. (I think we saw two of the 6 black people that live in Utah county that day.) As soon as Noah saw him it all started again. This time though, the kid was a little confused and wasn't sure how to respond. Noah cleaned up the awkwardness with "See ya later!" when he realized that he wasn't going to get much of a response. As we walked away, he pointed out to me that the guy was black though, like him.

I am keenly aware of the fact that my child is going to have some significant barriers to overcome as he grows up in our community. I don't want him to have to spend his life feeling isolated because he is different than everybody around him. I don't have any solutions to those worries, but I do feel okay because for now, Noah is "cool" with it. Hopefully as he grows up, our ability to figure out how to help him navigate his path will grow along with him.