I have a real distaste for talking about race. Not because I don’t think
it’s relevant, but more because I’m one of those human-to-human kind
of people who would rather not live based upon superficial assump-
tions. I have to wait and see for myself. Now, let me be transparent in
saying that I do have prejudices. If you read or listened to anything I
had to say about Mark Cuban and his comments about being prejudice,
you know my stance. In a nutshell, we all have them. I am not exempt.
That being said, I’ll put aside my distaste for the subject matter for a
moment, because I believe that a recent incident, could possibly be
a great learning experience for more than just me. Or at least that’s
Here’s what happened.
To set the scene, my two boys who are 10 and 12 had just gone out-
side to play about fifteen prior to my doorbell ringing. The doorbell
rings. It’s my neighbor from next door who is a white woman in her
early 60s. Our exchanges have always been pleasant. Generally
speaking, I like her. Here is how the conversation goes:
Me: Hello, how are you? (with a smile)
Neighbor: Great. How are you? (with a smile)
Neighbor: Did you notice the stones down in your back yard?
Me: No, we just arrived home a little while ago.
Neighbor: Well, there were two little boys on bikes who were
knocking the bricks down one by one.
Me: When did that happen?
Neighbor: About an hour ago
Me: Wow, that’s odd. I wonder who would have done that.
What did they look like?
Neighbor: Two younger boys. I’m pretty sure they were black.
Yes, I’m pretty sure
*I”m now perplexed, as my boys are the only two black boys who play
in the neighborhood that I’ve ever seen. And, they could not have been
the ones to knock down the bricks as they were not around. In addition,
there is only one other little boy in this complex who is brown and he
is Puerto Rican and White. He is shorter and more lighter complected
than my children.*
I call my 12 year old and say firmly, “Two boys were knocking down
bricks in our backyard. Have you heard of anything? Don’t worry, I’m
not going to tell their parents, I just need to know because our neigh-
bor saw them and reported it to the office. I’m trying to help them.”
He tells me who did it since I assured him that they were not in trouble.
To confirm, when I saw the group of boys that normally play in the
neighborhood a few minutes later outside, I simply asked, who
knocked down the stones in my yard? The little brown boy I men-
tioned earlier (not one of my sons) admitted that he’d participated.
The other child who I know participated and who was Asian, looked
sheepishly, but didn’t say anything. So I said, I’m not going to tell
your parents, but someone told the office and I’m trying to help. The
second child then admitted to participating also in knocking down
the bricks. I gave them a mini lecture that touched on the following
points: a) someone could have gotten hurt b) your parents moved
here because of how nice it is and ruining it makes others think that’s
okay in our neighborhood c) it was very disrespectful to me and their
friends (my boys) to do such a thing. d) they should think twice as
this could have turned into a serious situation and addressed with
their parents e) they owed me an apology (which they gave).
NOW, please imagine another situation where two boys were seen
doing something like picking a fight with someone or vandalizing a
car in our same neighborhood, neighbor is asked who did it and she
says, “I’m pretty sure they were black.” Through process of elimina-
tion that would leave 2 children in our neighborhood. MINE!
After this settled in, I was sad, scared for a moment and then very upset.
It struck me in the moment, just how much color does matter and it’s
great when we see it. Why? Because it’s a relevant descriptor. Not just
with humans, but in life. We use it to describe the drapes we want, the
carpet color we need to match the wall color or the color of the bruise
we’ve gotten to the doctor over the phone. We take such great care in
describing just the right color for mostly everything. “It was sage green.
No, sea foam green. Wait, it was about 3 shades lighter than evergreen.”
These are not unfamiliar ways to describe color.
Color matters and we should notice it. My neighbor saw some shade
of brown and said that she was “pretty sure” the boys were black. The
questions that have been plaguing me since the situation happened
is, was it her expectation that led her psyche to see the boys as black?
Or, given that both boys were darker than she is, does that constitute
being black in her mind?
My boys are two distinct colors of brown, yet they are mistaken for each
other mostly by people who aren’t brown over and over again. It never
used to bother me until this very recent experience that made me realize
the potential consequences of people’s brush over color.
I would say that it’s just human nature, except that I’ve heard to many
non brown people describe other non brown people as “fair complected”
or with “dark features”. Here, there is somehow some logging of a vari-
ance in the brain.
So, what is my point?
It is dangerous to broad-brush people into one descriptor. There are
consequences. Layer our prejudices and paradigms into the fold and
it could literally change the trajectory of someone’s life by being mis-
taken for someone else.
It’s okay to see color. I believe it is necessary. Color should not, how-
ever, be your indicator of how you treat that person or what you be-
lieve you know about them.
Let’s live wise and explore motherhood together.