Sitting in the drive thru waiting for our food to come out of the window, Abbie asks me, “Mommy, what is the name of the chocolate boy on Clifford?” I answered her question, as I knew she was using her best ability to describe something for which she doesn’t have words.
Then I asked her a question, curious about her perception of other people. “Abbie, how do you describe other people who don’t have dark or chocolate skin? What do you call them?”
And she answered my question with a question, “You mean people with lighter brown skin like you and me?”
“Yeah, people with lighter brown skin, like you and me,” I responded, “What is you word for that?”
Without flenching she said, “Meat.”
“Meat?” not sure I heard her correctly from the front seat of the car.
“O kay. I was just curious.” I told her. “That’s very observant of you, Abbs.”
This conversation got me thinking about a lesson I’ve been intent on living and I hope I pass on to my children, it is the difference between tolerance and acceptance of the other, the different, the stranger. It is the difference between teaching children to be color blind, and teaching children to value diversity. Growing up in Marietta, Georgia and Madisonville, Kentucky I am a southern girl. But I have been raised to fight racism and cultural intolerance. I was raised to welcome the stranger, to notice differences and embrace those differences as God’s gift of diversity.
Now let me also say, as a southern girl I have learned manners, and what is not polite to point out. And I’ve had experiences as an adult learning from saying the wrong thing that different people are sensitive about different things. So it takes some intuition, some experience and some confidence to be honest and grace-filled to maneuver the sometimes delicate conversation of racism and cultural intolerance.
It also takes spiritual maturity and depth of faith to understand our scriptural call to accept those who are created by God differently than we are created by God, rather than tolerating the stranger. Toleration leads to the saying, “good fences make good neighbors” being interpreted as gated communities. Boundaries can be healthy, but holding everyone at arms length because you
get hurt is about fear, not about God.
Teaching children to be “color blind” is like painting everyone with one color and ignoring our differences. What about God’s intent to create us with vast differences and yet all in God’s own image? Our differences are not what tear us apart, they are what make us interdependent. Our differences teach us about ourselves and about God.
Life is too short to spend too much time living in fear. Scripture reminds us again and again, “Do not fear,” “Fear not.” I hope I am teaching my children acceptance, not tolerance; diversity, not “color blindness.” I am blessed to know it is not my job alone. I pray the greater influences on them are God, faith, Don and I as parents, and the village who values diversity at the cost of self-promotion.