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!
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