In honor of Martin Luther King Day today, I thought I’d share this story.
When we were dating, my husband used to tease me about me calling us a “biracial couple.” Our being from different cultures never really made a difference to my husband. One of his gifts is that he truly sees people for who they are.
I, on the other hand, grew up in a small Alabamian town that was still unofficially segregated in my childhood. Of course my parents taught us we were never allowed to talk badly of another person, but the local culture was pretty much “you hang out with your own kind.” I don’t say that to be mean or harsh, it’s just how I understood it growing up. Let’s face it, there were only two kinds of people that I knew of growing up: white and black. It was shock to my system when I met my first Hispanic friend – a little Mexican girl who joined my first grade class whose parents came to pick potatoes one season. My teacher assigned me to be her “friend” and I was absolutely fascinated that she didn’t speak any English. (Funny, how life comes full comes full circle, huh?) I also remember a new kid in high school who described herself as Italian, from New York. I really didn’t know what that meant. Was she white or black? So, I don’t think you could really describe my hometown at the time as truly diverse. But I knew what racism was. I knew how some of the “old-school people” talked and I knew it wasn’t right or very nice.
Eons later, imagine the shock of my life when living in Chile, my oldest came in from the playground telling me she wasn’t friends with our nanny anymore because the nanny’s skin was too dark. I was horrified.
I knew we’d have to deal with this some day. After all, racism is still a much-discussed issue in the US, and I knew that some day we’d have to have the discussion why Daddy skin looked different from ours. I knew that this would be an issue . . . later. I did not expect to have to have this conversation at the age of three.
It turns out that one of our oldest’s little Chilean friends had told her this on the playground. You see, our nanny was Peruvian and they tend to have darker skin than Chileans. And because our oldest adored this friend who was a little older, she assumed that the girl was right.
To say that my husband and I weren’t ready for this was an understatement. Beyond staring at each other, we had no idea what to say or do.
So, this is what we came up with:
1. God made people. If God made them with that skin, He made them exactly the way He wanted them to be.
2. We took our oldest and showed her our wedding pictures of all of our family. We showed her that our family is made up of lots of different colored skin. We compared all of skin colors and showed how each of us have different tones to our skin.
3. I started looking for books about diversity and we started reading them to our girls.
That seemed to have been enough for our oldest and she didn’t bring up the subject again. I know this will be something we talk about in the future again and again. And I welcome the conversation, because I truly believe sharing our stories and experiences is the only way to learn and understand each other.
But if anyone has any other tips and suggestions, I’m all for it. I’d like to be a little more ready next time.