“The dark boy.” That’s how my white friend’s 5-year-old daughter referred to a black player on her T-Ball team. The words embarrassed my friend, as if they reflected poorly on him, as if the other parents might think that’s how he and his wife spoke at home.
But kids say what they see. If the boy was chunky instead of black, his daughter would have called him “the fat boy,” or if he was redheaded with freckles, “the creepy boy.” Kids notice what makes themselves or their friends different from the rest — it’s human nature.
“The dark boy” was a physical description, nothing more, and not a judgment. It’s not like my friend’s daughter was implying something about the kid, like “Shouldn’t he be playing basketball instead?” or “Dad, you better lock the car doors, he’s headed this way.”
I know we aspire to live in a colorblind society, but that’s bullshit — nobody’s colorblind (well, except for those people who are, you know, colorblind.) Human beings notice each other’s differences, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, nor is it anything we can control.
It’s also natural for adults to make assumptions based on those differences, drawing upon a lifetime of personal experience. Yes, it’s called prejudice but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes the conclusions that our brains jump to are correct and can help us. (Check out this piece on the benefits of snap decisions: Snap decisions sometimes the best.) Other times, we sum up people before we get the whole story, cheating everyone involved. This is a thought process we can short-circuit, but it takes a conscious effort.
People who tell you they “don’t see skin color” are full of it. And probably a little racist, because what they’re saying is that a physical trait is a way to draw conclusions about people, even if they’re above such things, and that some skin colors are better than others. Imagine someone saying “I don’t see hair color”!
We’re all better people when we keep an open mind, but it does require great work and an honesty with ourselves. And sometimes it’s hopeless, like when the mind has been tainted by hatred and ignorance and fear passed down or learned from others.
But unless we see prejudice — not racism, but the simple act of drawing a conclusion before all the facts are in — as a universal human trait, we’ll always have trouble dealing with its uglier sides.