Earlier this summer, from the back of the mini van, Etienne said "I don't think a lot of vanilla people like brown people." Out of the clear blue sky. We were seriously on the way to my brother's house. Hadn't been in public, Ryan and I hadn't had any lively debates on racism. The television was off. This kind of statement, though we thought that we had prepared ourselves for it, shocked us and saddened us. Our son is around other African Americans but he does not live in a predominately African American part of the country. Our son is routinely around a community of trans racially adopted kids. Yet he feels racism. He doesn't have words for it or even a moment that he can pin point. He just feels it. Doesn't that make your stomach churn? He is first grader in a middle class family surrounded by a lot of hipster educated, typically PC, sometimes pompous but always well meaning people. Unbeknownst to E, his statement happened the same time that the jury reached a verdict on the Trayvon Martin trial. I was already wondering if Etienne and Ezekiel how we would counsel our beautiful brown boys on image and style and racial profiling. My heart hurt to know that someday, when my beautiful boys were young men, there would be people that would be judge them for their skin color. Etienne's comment has haunted me since.
Here's the other thing. I know many white Americans believe that racism is pretty much dead. I think that there are many people, even those that I love, that have cutesy Pinterest "Love is blind" pins and they listen to JayZ and they believe that all Americans have equality. But being "color blind" is only avoiding that although Dr King's dreams are almost realized, we aren't quite there yet.
Last night, as Ryan and I were tucking Etienne into bed, he began to cry. He said "I wish I looked like everyone else, Mom. Some kids don't like my hair. And I don't feel like the blonde kids don't like me."
Probably some of the worst words my child could say. There is absolutely nothing that I could do to really fix this or to comfort him.
So I told him that a long time ago, I began to know with all my being that God had extra special plans for Etienne. I said that there was purpose in his struggles. I told my E that right now his heart is a squishy ball of play dough. That God is just squeezing and shaping Etienne's play dough heart so that when the time comes, his heart will have more space to fit in all the other people in the world that have hurt and trials like him. Then I just held him and cried with him.
Blake was on the bunk above us, hearing this conversation. He skittered on down and laid himself flat on Etienne. Then he took E's face in his hands and he said
"E, don't you know that you are the strongest kid in the school? You can run faster then everyone else.
"E, you can see your muscles without even trying. And your eyebrows catch sweat so you can see the football."Thank God for brothers. Thank God that Blake could meet Etienne where he was; speaking on his brother's level. Our tears quickly turned to giggles. Sigh.
It get's messier. This morning, Molly laid her head on my lap and sobbed. She sobbed because her heart broke to know that her brother felt racism, that her "ancestors" persecuted others, that she can not do a whole lot about any of it. The boys, meanwhile, were engrossed in MLK Jr's son on the Today show; whether he was "kind of strong or kind of fat?" All this before 8 AM.
So you could argue that Etienne is just insecure (which he is, duh.). You could say that I am more sensitive (of course I am, you would be too.). But the fact is that my son's perception is that he is disliked because he is African American. And that is the problem, isn't it?
I will continue to acknowledge Etienne's feelings when he believes that he is judged by his skin tone. I won't ever be that mom that gives false assurance on things I don't know full well. But I will tell Etienne that I know kids like him because he is the one to tie their shoes, to sit next to them when they are alone, to be a friend to them when they are lonely. I will tell him that he is wanted, that he is loved and he is his Father's child. And that he has the biggest, squishiest play dough heart ever.