Critical Conversations: Race Relations

Filed under: Development/Milestones: Babies, Day Care & Education

When I was in high school, one of my best friends (as in hung out with, slept over with, started businesses with, got in trouble with) happened to be black. We never noticed a difference, especially in our school where the student population included pretty much every color of the rainbow. While we don't see each other as often as we'd like -- he's in the Seattle area while I'm in San Francisco -- we're still just as close as when we were chasing girls at the local roller rink a hundred years ago.

For a long time, I hung out with the office manager of a company I worked for. She was stunningly beautiful and always exquisitely dressed -- basically, she was way out of my league. Still, we went to lunch together regularly, hung out together outside of work, and were basically great friends. I found out years later that everyone in the company thought we were a couple. In reality, we were nothing more than good friends. It had nothing to do with the fact that she had skin as black as night -- she was Jamaican -- it was due to her being the sort of woman who would go camping and start looking for a place to plug in her hair dryer while I was the sort who would go to the opera in jeans.

Growing up, my family ate regularly at a small, family-run Chinese restaurant. In fact, we ate there so regularly that, many years later, one of the daughters recognized me when I came through her checkout line at a store. I didn't recognize her until she told me who she was -- she was, after all, no longer a pre-teen. Still, she remembered me and my family. We also spent a lot of time at the Chinatown Salvation Army -- they were one of my dad's big clients. As such, I can use chopsticks with my left hand better than a lot of my Chinese friends can with their right. (And I know something you do not know. I am not left-handed either.)

My neighborhood gang was made up of kids from many different backgrounds. We played together, we fought together, we ran around making a ruckus all over the neighborhood without even considering that there was anything different about us. Other than, of course, that only one of us could eat an entire hostess pie in one bite.

At school, Jared plays with kids who are White, Black, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish. Outside of school, his friends include more of all those, plus an Iranian boy, and probably others. Adult friends include Russians, a German, a South African, and certainly more that I can't think of. He doesn't notice, except as it relates to food (we love Japanese curry) and languages (I try to expose them to as many as possible.)

Someday, I imagine, Jared will come home from school or something and tell me that someone said that one of his friends is some race/color/whatever and therefore isn't someone Jared should be playing with. I will sit him down and we'll have a little chat -- not all that different from ones we've had before -- about how it doesn't matter how people look, it's the person inside that matters. If they're nice and fun and don't do naughty things so much, then they are good people to be friends with, regardless of how they look on the outside.

Hopefully, because of the way he's growing up -- having lots of different-looking friends and seeing his parents having lots of different-looking friends -- that will make perfect sense to him and he'll go back and re-educate whatever small-minded child pointed out the difference to him. Indeed, that's one of the things I like about living in San Francisco -- there is so much diversity here. While I can't say there is no racial discrimination in our fair town, I know there isn't any in our family.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.