Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Overlooking the obvious

From our house to Matt's parents' house (and vice versa), "exit 9" outside of Albany is almost always the perfect destination for meals, clean bathrooms, and a much-needed stretch. The Cracker Barrel store and restaurant hosts a favorite set of bathrooms--and their raspberry iced tea is yummy, too. On the way to Matt's parents' home, the restaurant restroom became the site of a "first" for Lucas--peeing on a public potty! Hooray! It was in this same restroom on our way home that I had what I'm certain was not a first or a last for me--the "keep it simple/don't overlook the obvious" answer to a child's very innocent question.

As Kyra and I were leaving to return to our table, we held the restroom door for a group of women--three seemingly together who were African-American, and two seemingly together who might have been Indian. In that a-little-louder-than-normal child's voice, Kyra asked, "Why are all the brown people going to the bathroom?" In the space following her question, my mind raced through a million thoughts. I work predominantly with people of color, and as someone white who was relatively oblivious to my own color for many years of my life, I long ago made a promise to myself that my children would be raised to be color conscious. The old myth of walking through the world color blind does not fit the realities of a world where white continues to extend remarkable unearned privileges. Though my work is in multiculturalism, predominantly around issues of race, I still had that pause. I didn't want to shame my child for her question and observation; I didn't know if the women had heard and whether or not they were comfortable or uncomfortable with her remark. I didn't want to emphasize color in my response--how could I, to a four year old? "Well, Kyra, why is it you didn't comment earlier when a group of white people passed us to go to the cash register?" My sorely inadequate response? "Maybe they are a family and decided to go to the bathroom together." Though it seemed quite obvious that we passed two distinct groups of women, I still choked a bit on my answer, eager to not let my pause bring shame or self-consciousness to Kyra. When I shared the incident with Matt later that evening, he suggested I should have said that if I were a person of color, I, too, would want someone to have my back in the restroom of such a white establishment!

The obvious answer I so clearly overlooked didn't emerge until a day later. What I wish I had said???

"Because they must have to go to the bathroom."

8 comments:

GRAMPA PETER said...

When I was ministering actively, I preached a sermon titled 'WHAT COLOR IS YOUR CRAYON?" giving each person worshiping a crayon, asking them to draw a picture of our world, but THEY could only use THEIR one crayon, or they could invite others to join them with different colors. When you girls were young, we took Heather to Child World and she picked out one doll that she wanted. It was ELISABETH, Fisher Price's first doll of color. I was not terribly surprised when someone in the Church said to her, after Heather had shown them her wonderful new doll. "But she's black."
To which point I said, Interesting that Heather only saw a doll which she loves, while you saw the color!
We tried to raise you both to have an appreciation for ALL people, and I think that is one area where we did okay because you all are wonderfully sensitive to all people...

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