Friday, July 1, 2011

He's not very dark, is he?

"He's not very dark, is he," an elderly relative asks me, each time we visit.  No, he's really not any darker than my husband, who is Italian.  "He could almost pass for white," an acquaintance says when she meets him for the first time.  "No one would know that he's half black," I've heard from numerous people.  My son Teddy is bi-racial, caucasian and black.  Everyone seems to feel the need to comment about this to me,  from store clerks to teachers to neighbors.

I wonder if it would be the same if I had adopted an Asian child.   I think it would not be.  I wonder if this is just an issue that Americans have with bi-racial children.  I can't say that the people who make these comments are racist, in every case.  But I wonder why Teddy's skin color seems an acceptable topic of conversation, for them to introduce.  I wonder why they seem so pleased that he is "not very dark," and how they can feel that it is an appropriate thing to express to me, and to Teddy.

Between our house and the local elementary school there are two flags hanging in yards as visible reminders of bigotry, hate and discrimination.  If Teddy rode the school bus he would see them out the window twice each day.  I was at a party in our small town, and the spouse of a very high-ranking person in the school system told the absolute most sickening racial joke I have ever heard.   I should add that I live in the northern midwest. 

I wonder if I would feel this way if I myself were black.  Because I am white and I have never felt this type of bigotry against myself, I might be more sensitive and protective of my child.  It seems impossible that I could allow my child to suffer from prejudice, ignorance and meanness at five years old.  Perhaps if I were black I would have learned that it's impossible to protect my child from this hurt.  I think that is the most tragic thing of all.