I was in kindergarten when I first recognized differences in skin color. It’s not that I hadn’t ever met anyone with skin that was different from mine before that, I just didn’t pay any attention to it because nobody pointed it out to me and I was a kid and all I cared about was who was going to play with me. But as I was headed off to my first day of kindergarten, in September of 1984, all nerves and excitement, I was told by a family member that I was lucky because, although I was living in a diverse city, the school I was going to was completely white.
As my mom walked me to school that day, I asked why that was important. She told me that it wasn’t and to ignore what was said to me that morning. I remember a smirk on her face when she picked me up that afternoon and saw that my new best friend was the only black girl in my class. I only attended that school for a few months. At the school I transferred to, I was one of only two or three white kids in my class.
I moved a lot growing up and over the course of my education, I attended city schools, suburban schools, diverse schools, pretty damn homogenous schools, public schools, a Catholic school, “bad” schools, award-winning schools . . . . If there’s anything I can take away from my experiences across all of them it’s that we’re all the same . . . and we’re all different.
Two children climbing the monkey bars couldn’t care less what each other looks like. They’re friends . . . and often instantaneously. I’ve watched it happen with my daughter over the past 8 years. She was born with kid-dar – no matter where we are or what we’re doing, she finds any child who is within a couple years of her age. She finds them, she starts a conversation, and by the time we’re leaving, she has a new best friend. It doesn’t just happen at the playground or children’s museums. It happens on the bus, at the supermarket checkout, in restaurants, and shopping malls.
Our experiences make us different . . . . and some of those experiences relate to race and skin color . . . and to religion and nationality and sexual orientation and gender and gender identity. Our differences shouldn’t be ignored . . . they should be celebrated. But at the heart of it, we’re all just looking to connect with others . . . whether we are children searching for a playmate or an adult searching for friendship and companionship.
If I would have put any weight to what I was told on my first day of kindergarten, I would have missed out on a great friend . . . just as adults often miss out when they can’t see past the color of someone’s skin.
In 2013, it feels like we should be past all of this. Some people think we are. Some people think racism is over. Sometimes we need to be reminded that it’s not, that we still have a long way to go.
A recent Cheerios commercial provided such a reminder . . . not because of the commercial itself but because of the comments it generated. The commercial features a little girl with a white mom and a black dad. The comments on the YouTube video have been disabled because of all of the hateful remarks, but plenty of them can still be found on the numerous articles written about the commercial.
I read comments about the “genocide of the white race” and about the “impurities of all the mutts” and “defilement of our white nation” and “shoving multiculturalism down our throats” and more. While the positive feedback has far outweighed the negative, those hate-filled comments should not be ignored or forgotten.
We need the kick in the ass to show us that racism is still very much alive in America because only by acknowledging a problem can we work to rectify it.
It is 2013. We need to start acting like it.
Here’s the commercial, in case you didn’t see it. . . .