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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

God Made People Lots of Colors, Just Like The Leaves

I was raised in a household where race was a complete non-issue. I never witnessed racism on any level, until I reached about mid-elementary school and overheard boys telling nigger jokes. I still remember laughing at those jokes, having no idea what was really being said, and the look on my friend ErnieBlue's face when he saw me laugh. ErnieBlue (which is what I called him, I don't know why) was a little boy with darker skin than mine, and I thought he was beautiful, and I loved him, and we were best friends. Because we were little children and no one makes fun of you for being friends with a boy when you are six.

That day, I made ErnieBlue cry for laughing at nigger jokes, and I couldn't figure out why, so I asked my Grandpa, who was the smartest person I knew. (He still is, really.) Grandpa told me about slaves and skin color and about our ancestors who helped slaves escape and had homes all along the underground railroad. I clearly remember the feeling I had when I thought about this. I felt hollow in the middle of me, like someone had taken a piece of my heart away. I wanted to cry. All I could think of was ErnieBlue's grandparents maybe being slaves, and then I understood why those jokes were inexcusable.

ErnieBlue forgave my ignorance, and we remained friends through high school, but when he was twenty years old, he was struck by a car and died instantly. No one really knows why he was out there on the highway late at night, or if his death was really an accident, or maybe suicide. But he was beautiful, and I loved him. He was my best friend.


Fast forward to this afternoon. Four and I were driving home from a brief shopping trip when she suddenly piped up, "Isn't God nice?" I was a little taken aback at this type of talk. Four is not my soulful child, she is my terror child, and she never talks this way. "Yes honey, God is very nice."
"He's pretty smart, too, right Mom?"
"Yes, Boo. He's the smartest guy ever."
"I like that God made people lots of colors. Just like the leaves."

I glanced in the rearview mirror. "Yep, God sure knew what he was doing. We're all different colors, just like the leaves."

She thought a moment, and I took that opportunity to add, "But we're all people, just like leaves are all leaves, no matter what color they are."
She kind of looked at me like I was an idiot. I could practically read her mind - duh, mom, of course we are.

I'm not sure what brought this conversation on. I've never discussed the differences in skin color with my kids, because I feel that if they don't know such a thing as bigotry, they won't be bigots. Maybe wishful thinking. But for now, I'm glad my children are growing up in an era where anyone can run for president, and anyone can be president. Where a person can be a doctor or a lawyer or an astronaut or a supermarket deli manager or anything they want - no matter what their skin color or gender.

Oh, I know the world isn't perfect, and there will always be racists on both sides of the coin. In the course of 24 hours, I heard one person admit that she wasn't voting for Obama because he is black, and saw another comment that she was voting for Obama to get Whitey back.

We've come a long way, but we've still got a long way to go. Racism is still alive and well, and we've hardly begun to tackle the issue of religion or homosexuality. I believe the hatred and distrust towards homosexuals and those of other religions runs deep in this country, as deep as the hatred and distrust toward those whose skin is a different shade.

But as for me and mine, we'll love everyone, regardless of what they are on the outside, because on the inside, we're all pretty similar... just like the leaves.

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