From my son’s experience, race in America is a learned concept. Even after 3 kids it was my son’s first grade experience last year that help me realize children see the world as a collective of different faces; Society teaches them to group people by color.
Last year this week, in learning about observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, my son came home confused about this idea of “black and white.” His teacher, a first year teacher, must have explained the day of observation, Dr. King’s work and importance in American history to the class. His take away was simply, huh? What is she taking about? No one is black or white!
Initially confused it took a few questions for me to realize that he meant no one’s skin is actually those colors – opaque black, completely white. This ah ha moment lead to more questions that left me to conclude that children intrinsically see people as individuals. Each person is an entity upon his/her self. Different facial features, hair color or eyes, voice, and yes skin color makes up a person. He was so confused on the complicated concepts of skin color and groupings of color and the difference in treatment. It was a moment of pride and frustration when I realize that our efforts to teach our children tolerance, acceptance and self awareness arose in his confusion. A child sees individuality not just a color. It’s the adult world of moral and social lanterns we cast upon it that defines and segregates us.
I took this picture of him playing piano this afternoon and asked him what color he sees and he said black and white keys.
“And what other color?” I asked
His reply, “My hands.”
For an Asian kid in America he couldn’t find a color category.