Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Mum, what are black and white people?

  So Pup asked me during the sermon at church on Sunday evening.
And I do a silent 'yesss' in my head. So far he's had no idea that people are divided into 'black' and 'white' by most of the world. No awareness that people can be judged on their colour.

  Yes, he has to learn. Kids do need to know about evil, and I suspect that he will begin to learn very soon.

  I explained to him that people with dark brown skin are often called black, and people with pale skin are usually known as white. He thinks this is crazy - as do I. There are kids with all sorts of shades of skin at his school, and he doesn't differentiate between his friend with dark brown skin and tight curly hair, the boy in his class who is from China, the lad whose Dad is 'Asian' in appearance  and all the other kids with all 'white' genes. We are so lucky that these issues do not seem to have arisen at school.

  He hasn't a clue. Why is that important to me? It means that he is growing up with the early years of his life reasonably  untainted by racist ideas and ideologies, and I think that those first few years are when our deepest ideals are fixed. My parents were not racist, but I was a child in an era when racism was epidemic in the world. South Africa, the USA all had some very warped social attitudes. Even in the UK we used to hear very negative views expressed about people from other nations, and who looked 'different'; people were judged on their colour. I think it influenced me subconsciously, and it took me some years to overcome it completely.

  We never describe anyone as black or white in our house. If we get forms asking us our ethnic origin we don't say we are white. I have had to correct school when they've listed our boys as 'white British'. I know there are many people who are proud to describe themseves as black or white. I certainly agree that they should be proud of who they are - but I am sad that they feel that way about colour. Except in the general way that people are happy or unhappy with their hair colour, eye colour, that fact that they look (or don't look ) like Dad or Aunty Flo.

  I know we can't solve racism by what we are doing. I can only try to bring up my boys in a way that will encourage them to see all people as equal, and not pigeonhole people. Yes there do  have to be some pigeonholes (religion, nationality, country of birth.....)  But I can't see what skin colour has to do with it, unless you are a medic such as a plastic surgeon!

Maybe we are naive idealists. Maybe we don't live in the real world. Maybe we are incredibly lucky to live in a place where there are very few racial tensions and there is no need for us to 'take sides'. Where befriending someone with a different skin colour doesn't put us and them at risk. Where everyone can travel on the same bus. I'm just incredibly grateful. Even in this country there are places where  there is no peace between 'ethnic groups', there are people who would attack a boy because his skin is the 'wrong' colour.

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