What my daughter taught me about race
Written by Ashford Evans
I live in a very small, rural town in South Carolina. I gave birth to my children at the same hospital I was born in. I live 14 miles down the road from my childhood home. I haven’t always lived here. In fact, I spent 10 years living in many cities and states all across the country but I ended up right back where I started.
Living in a small southern town means a lot of things. It means I always see someone I know at the grocery store. It means Friday Night Lights is a real phenomenon where the entire town shows up to support the local football team. It means I know most of the police officers and wave at them as I pass through their speed traps (that is if they’re not pulling me over). It also means that our demographic makeup is about 115% white. What it does NOT mean is that I am racist.
South Carolina has been all over the news in the past week as the presidential primaries make their way here. Eight months ago we were front page with the massacre at a Charleston church that left nine people dead. Just seven months ago we took down the Confederate flag despite the fact that the Civil War ended over 150 years ago. Racism is alive and well here in my state. The KKK even held a protest rally on the State House steps. These are not the things I want my children exposed to. I do not want them raised with this manufactured and misguided hate.
I am acutely aware of our whitewashed neighborhood and I work extra hard to make sure my children do not grow up with any manufactured prejudice. I don’t want them to see skin color as an issue, as a divider. There is exactly 1 child in my children’s school that is African American. There are 3 Chinese children and none of Hispanic origin. My kids simply aren’t really exposed to different skin colors.
All of our baby sitters have been young high school or college-aged girls. And yes, they’ve all been white. So when we hired our most recent caregiver who happens to be an older African American woman my husband and I began to worry about how the children would react. Would they say something inappropriate? Would they react differently? How do we preemptively strike the situation in order to make it clear that skin color is not a dividing factor?
The week leading up to her first day we were becoming more and more nervous. We wrestled with the decision to sit them down and have a conversation about skin color and race. We were also sensitive to the fact that sometimes bringing attention to something can make it a bigger deal than it is.
Ultimately we decided to not say anything and to not draw attention to what could have become the elephant in the room. Ms B’s first day came and she welcomed the children with open arms. They played in the sandbox together and nothing of note was said. That night while putting our eldest child to bed I asked if she liked Ms B.
“Yeah! She’s really fun!” she replied. “But Mommy, I didn’t think she was gonna look like that.”
I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the conversation to come.
“What do you mean honey? You didn’t think she was going to look like what?” I probed.
“Well,” she said. “I thought she was gonna have longer hair.”
And that was all she said about the matter. That’s when it hit me. I don’t have to teach my kids not to see color or race as a division. They naturally accept people of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. The only difference my daughter saw was the length of Ms B’s hair. In fact, by trying so hard to teach them that skin color doesn’t make us different I am actually reinforcing the belief that it does. I am the one who needs to work on my colorblindness, not them.
My children teach me things daily. They teach me about unconditional love and forgiveness. The teach me about blind acceptance. They teach me that many of the things ingrained in me are learned and not innate. And so in my quest to raise colorblind children they have taught me that it’s me with the false perceptions, not them.
About the Author
Ashford lives with her husband, three children, and three dogs in SC. When she’s not pregnant, breastfeeding, or polishing off a bottle of wine she is busy holding down her demanding sales career or working at their family owned business. She blogs about her crazy escapades and living life in between being the bread winner and the bread maker at Biscuits and Crazy or you can follow her on Facebook.