The simple remark came out of the blue this morning. My son likes to tell “jokes” about things he thinks are funny. He is the youngest child after all; it is his duty. I see the smile flash and his eyes light up. I know one of his little jokes is coming, and I smile in anticipation:
“Mommy! Isn’t this funny? I saw someone with BLACK skin yesterday! Even their face was black and also on their fingers! Isn’t that funny?”
Oh, boy. That punch in the gut hurt. Didn’t see that one coming. Recover, pause, breathe.
“Honey”, I said, “Who else do you know that has black skin? Does teacher ——- have black skin? What about teacher ——–? Doesn’t my friend ——- have black skin and your friend ——–?”
“Yes! …but isn’t it funny?”
I look away, infuriated by his innocence. He doesn’t know, I remember. Deeper breaths, longer pause. I’m going to have to go deep.
Serious of all serious mother tones:
“Actually, it is not funny. Because they were born with that color skin and there isn’t anything they can do to change it. Can they change the color of their skin?”
Smile wiped from face:
“And what if they who have black skin turned to you and said, ‘Look at him! He has WHITE skin! Isn’t that so funny! He is soooo different.’ Would you like that?”
Clouds forming behind his eyes, oh this sweet boy just got it:
“No.” he says, his lip quivering.
The mother softness returns, and before his tears come I pull him in for a hug:
“I know you wouldn’t like it which is why we never say that the color of someone’s skin is funny. I love you, and now you understand.”
He is four years old, and has just had his first informal lesson of many on empathy between races.