Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Standing out in a small town

"Which one is yours?" the other mom asked.

It was a birthday party where a dozen adorable munchkins were bouncing around like giggling ping-pong balls, getting hyped on sugar and sunshine.

"The black one," I said, pointing. "Her name is Patience."

"Cool," the other mom said. "Mine's the one with the ringlets."

"Cool," I replied.

Maybe it was politically incorrect, what I said. Maybe I should've said, "The one in the pink shirt." But there were several little girls in pink. Or I could've said, "The one next to the birthday girl." But the birthday girl was surrounded by a whole gaggle of girls. So I simply described my daughter in an easily identifiable way. Because guess what? She's black. And she was the only one.

We live in a small town painfully lacking in diversity. That's our reality. It is what it is. And I've noticed something about having a black daughter in a rural, white town: She stands out. (I've blogged about that before, here.)

In fact, when another little kid sees my daughter for the first time, they usually gawk. Because they're experiencing something new. They've never seen such dark skin. They've never seen such a magnificent 'fro. They stare, and sometimes reach out and touch, and take it all in with wonder and curiosity and zero judgment. And I love their unabashed honesty. But their parents often swoop in, embarrassed, and snatch them away, saying, "Oh, I'm so sorry."

What an interesting reaction. What are you sorry about exactly? That your child invaded my daughter's personal space? No big deal, that's what kids do. That your child is observant and curious? No problem, those are positive qualities.

Or are you sorry that your child drew attention to the fact my daughter's skin is black? Is that what's going through your mind?

Whoa. Now we're getting serious. Is that what you're sorry about? Are you uncomfortable because your child either directly or indirectly acknowledged the color of my child's skin and you're not sure how I'll react? Allow me to let you off the hook right now: That doesn't bother me one bit. It's okay to notice that Patience is black because...well, she's black. Noticing that about her is no different than noticing that Shaq is really tall. Or Dwayne Johnson has really buff arms. Or Amy Adams has the most beautiful red hair I've ever seen, and yes I'm jealous.

No, it doesn't offend me when people notice. We should celebrate the things that make us different and unique. The things that make us special. I want my daughter to be proud of who she is. Proud of the swirling thunderstorm of the tightest curls God ever made on her head. Proud of the burnished mahogany polished to perfection that is her skin. It's not racist to notice those beautiful things about her. It's only offensive if you try to pretend she isn't who she is. It's only racist if it changes your perceptions, actions, or responses.

And woe to you if that happens, because then you will have to meet Mama Bear. But that's a post for another day.


  1. Love this post! And I LOVE the picture. Beautiful! And I love how you show the difference between simply noticing a person's dark skin or amazing hair versus allowing that person's skin or hair to change one's perceptions. People get so easily offended these days that I'm too nervous to compliment a dark-skinned person's hair, for fear they'll take it the wrong way. But let's be honest--they have ah-MAZE-ing hair, and the styles they can do...oh, yeah, you bet this straight, fine-haired Caucasian is jealous. ;)

    1. Never be afraid of telling someone they're beautiful! And I hope you know how much time goes into managing all that amazing hair, it's a lot of work! Ha! Thanks, Laurie!