Sunday, April 12, 2015

I Want To Be Whiter

I'm filing this in the category of stuff that I simply couldn't make up even if I wanted to.

I was recently reading book reviews and comments debating whether it was necessary or even appropriate to discuss the issue of race in children's books. As an attempted parent of a preschool aged child, this is a topic that is very "real-time" for me. Despite what one may or may not take away from reading my postings here, my offspring is not bombarded by "race talk" as it were. Is this intentional on my part? I suppose in some ways it is.  The time will soon enough come where we will have to have "the talk", but in the meantime, I think the fleeting innocence of childhood should be hers for as long as sanely possible. That said, one comment during the book debate that children at this age are haplessly ignorant of color distinctions among people was squarely torpedoed just this past week. Mind you, there is nothing at all incorrect about making observations and distinctions between colors as the world is full of color and a function of the eye is to notice these differences but it is altogether something different when a 5-year old child rather boldly exclaims:

"I don't want to be dark, I want to be whiter!"

        -Unnamed Kindergartner

As context is always important, and especially in things racial, it should be noted that the above statement was made by a 5-year old white child after he was mildly chided by his teacher for making multiple references (and pointing) to my offspring as being "the dark one over there." Seeing that he was adamant in making his point about the "dark one", the teacher appropriately sensed this as a teachable moment, and in the moments before his outburst, the teacher had calmly tried to explain to him that there are various shades of color among people, pointing to herself as also being slightly darker than himself. It was at this point that he made his proclamation of wanting to be whiter...

I could editorialize this but I think it speaks for itself. The point: that being "white" means something within the system of racism - even a 5 year old white child understands as much, and to miss this salient point is to misunderstand racism and how it works.

Eric Spann (copyright 2015)

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