Black, white, brown,yellow – different colored people in a place – just like the piebald head of a blonde- adorned with bleach, bronze haircolor , natural color of hair. Such is the sea of people ,all human, homo sapiens but so different in the pigment of their skin and most overwhelming is the trauma, judgment, generalization, prejudice, hatred caused by this difference in color- so much awe, despise , yearning and loathing that is ascribed to it. There is so much more to the color than meets the eye – the bundle of attributes amassed by the brain, the connotation adumbrated on receiving that reflex from the eye ,those associations and dissocations that draw conspicuous lines between the coloreds – like the deep demarcation lines of states in the geographical map of a country.
But all this is too arcane and messy for a child’s mind , who just speaks what he sees, oblivious of the possible repercussions and hidden meanings because that mind is free of all the shackles that bind us, the adults. So how to introduce that restrain, those tenets, those principles that define what things are proper and what outrageously improper. This predicament stares me time and again when dealing with my 4-year old , who is too old to understand nothing and too young to understand everything.
The other day at Mothers day breakfast in his classroom, I was talking to one of his classmates’ mom – discussing how mine/her child behaves, what he likes/dislikes, what he likes to watch on TV, what games he plays, how fussy he is in eating- the usual rhetoric that I am an adept at now. And suddenly my little boy spoke up – “Mummy, Reggie’s mom’s eyes are funny”, referring to this woman’s one eye, which I think was artificial for it stood still while the other one danced and smiled .I became red with shame at his remark, apologizing profusely to her and she dismissed it saying it was alright. But I saw her one good eye lose the sparkle, break the connection with me which was being formed as she talked to me and she instantly lowered both her eyes. Since that day,I am the one who lowers her eyes as soon as I spot her, ashamed and appalled by my child’s comment.
And yesterday again that candidness, that outrightness of my son was about to land me in unspeakable trouble, when I just hushed it in time. We were at this public park in the evening of this beautiful Sunday – people enjoying outdoors just before bidding adieu to summer, and the park was ebullient with Americans, Indians , Asians, Hispanics, African-American kids and their parents – a collage of all communities that wander on this land of whites .
And my young one rushed past me to his favorite swing and stopping at a little distance shouted with dismay – “Mummy that black boy is on my swing, he is not getting down.” I looked around –shocked and hurried him to a corner for a little tete-a-tete.
I told him it was just wrong to call him black – the meaning and explanation of the term African-American which I wanted to say was too heavy for him. Black is an utterly pejorative term.
He retorted insouciantly –“ But mummy, his face is black”.
“No, don’t say that, it’s a bad word” , I insisted.
“But stupid and poopy are bad words, black is just a color”, he carried on in a defensive, rather pervicacious tone.
I found myself in a quandary, ran out of reason and somehow I silenced him by using my police threat and pointing to a police car on the road – this threat luckily he has not outgrown. But I knew the question was still alive in him by the way he stared past me with stolid eyes, into the lush green grass with his mouth open. And I found evidence of that shortly after.
By the time we got back, that boy had left the swing and was on a slide with his mom by his side, who I noticed was a woman too bulky and broad-built for me to handle her rebuke and lecture about good upbringing of a child or about racial discrimination or about immigrant Asians, had she heard my son’s remark that time. And maybe an equally hefty dad was within an earshot to lend her a hand. So a disaster was avoided. Thanks to all the kids’ shrieks and laughter and merry-making that contributed to the noise of the place, so that the mordant complaint of my child did not reach their ears.
And soon my anxious and curious one got tired of the swing and with the question still persistently humming in his mind, he pointed to some other child – “Mummy can I go play with that green one” , hesitating a little, looking at me straight , waiting for my reaction ,while referring to the child’s green T-shirt.
Ah, so this was the proof, his way of testing and confirming that all other colors were fine, maybe something is wrong about black.
OK I nodded, not knowing what to say but thinking , you can’t help being obsessed with colors, but as long as you point to the clothes’ color no problem but don’t you dare point to the skin color.