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."