Colorful Language

Blogger's Note: My friend, children's author Jacqui Robbins (yes, the Jacqui Robbins, and don't act so surprised!) posted this little gem, which got me thinking about when my own kids began to notice differences in people.

Let me say up front: racism is a real problem in the world. As a result, we have complex reactions to race — we notice differences between people quite naturally, and then (especially as adults) we sometimes overcompensate for our reactions. We react so strongly at times that we can confuse our children by overthinking it. This is how I remember one early incident.

Several years ago, Jodi and I took the older boys to a high-school basketball game. Brendan and Gabe were preschoolers, and we were seated in the crowded home bleachers. The visiting team was from a nearby city, and had players "of multiple ethnicities" on the floor. All one of the starters on the home team, the Warriors, were white — and when that one minority player hit a nice jump shot early in the game, the crowd cheered wildly.

"Who made a basket?" asked Brendan.

"Number five," I said. "Do you see him?"

Brendan went down the steps a ways to get a better look at the scrambling players. "You mean the brown one?" he called back.

The crowd around us matched the makeup of the starting five: Mostly white, except one family seated across the aisle from us. Jodi and I glanced at them in sudden embarrassment. They didn't seem to have heard.

"There he is," I said, pointing. "Number five!"

Brendan craned his neck, then looked back at me. "The brown one!" he said. "That's what I said!"

"I wanna see th' brown one!" yelled Gabe.

"Listen," I rasped as Jodi glanced across the aisle. "His name is Charlie. You guys can cheer for him by name. Cheer for Charlie."

They did, and after a while, the family across the aisle noticed and smiled proudly. And I started to think: The boys didn't mean anything by it; they're just kids, pointing out the most obvious distinguishing characteristic. I laughed at myself. To think that I was worried about a color...

The cheer squad chanted, "Here we go, Warriors, here we go!"

"Let's go, Warriors!" I shouted, and Bren repeated, "Let's go, Warriors!"

"Who is 'Warriors'?" asked Gabe.

"That's the team we want to win," said Bren. "The ones in white."

The other team was pressing hard. "Let's go, Warriors!" yelled Brendan.

"Yeah," said Gabe. "Let's go, whites!"

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