Musings, Travel

Black and White — or Shades of Brown?

When my son was about two-and-a-half, we found ourselves at JFK Airport waiting for a flight. He has always been a good traveler and we managed to keep ourselves busy for a little while people-watching. After about ten minutes of a never-ending stream of passers by, he turned to me and gave me one of those looks that only a two-year-old can muster — so very serious, but overwhelmingly curious. 

“Mom,” he asked, “why do we say people are black and white?” 

WOW! How do you answer a question like that? I didn’t want to influence his thought, so I answered his question with a question: “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he pondered, “there are lots of people here and I’ve been looking at them, but I haven’t seen anyone who is black or anyone who is white.”

I responded with another question, “What color are all these people?”

His response was quick and perfunctory, “Brown.” Nothing more, nothing less. His innocent observation of probably a few hundred people was that everyone was brown.

I was proud. JFK Airport is an endless variety of people. International travelers from every corner of the world passed by our seats. We’d seen people with every shade of brown you could imagine. I asked him to explain what he meant by brown.

He said, “well, some people are really light brown – like you, and some people are darker brown – like dad (his father is part-Hispanic), and some people are really dark brown – like the chocolate you like. 

OK, that gave me a little chuckle, people described as the colors of food was a great two-year-old observation.

We spent a couple of minutes wondering why anyone would say black or white to describe a person and never really came up with an answer. I explained that people from different places have different color skin and they also have different cultures and music and food and wear different clothes. He asked if the kids play with different toys. “Yes, they do,” I answered. He asked if he could play with other kinds of toys and I noticed the topic had returned to more typical kid conversation.

That conversation has stuck with me his whole life. He is almost 30 and still has the same wild curiosity about life and people. I am still proud.

I wish everyone could see the world through his two-year-old eyes. I wish everyone could see differences as fascinating instead of scary. I wish people could see the world in a never-ending number of shades of brown and not black and white. 

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … it’s thrilling and different and brilliantly colorful … go see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020 — Unless otherwise indicated, no compensation was received for this blog.

3 thoughts on “Black and White — or Shades of Brown?”

  1. I had the same experience with a black person telling me I was racist because I told them I didn’t see their color I saw what they bring to the table. They said they had to live in that skin so it was racist not to recognize it. Not sure of the motivation behind the thought. I do agree with you. If we start recognizing skin color we create racism by definition.


  2. I once made the comment to my twenty-something daughter that I never noticed color amongst my friends… we were all the same, all equal in my eyes. She was appalled by my comment and quickly suggested I never say that again to anyone. I was dumbfounded. She explained that in today’s world my comment is a racist thing to say. How could this be, I had asked? She informed me that people today want ownership of their ethnicity, cultures and colors. I understood this fact….but as I tried to defend my position of… But in my eyes, color shouldn’t matter… I guess I put everyone in the shades of brown category, clearly the youth of today feel differently. They want to be singled out and excepted for their differences. And I guess there’s nothing wrong with this line of thought either… but I see far more racial fallout with the latter than treating people of all colors of brown equally while embracing their cultural backgrounds at the same time. Interesting and thought provoking blog. Thanks for sharing.


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