One of my interests is multiculturalism (you probably know this if you’ve read me long enough), and thus many of the blogs I read deal with intercultural themes. One of my frequent reads is Colorblind Cupid, whose focus, though slightly different, is parallel to mine.
A recent post, dealing with the issue of mixed-race kids and our reactions thereto, has got me thinking about the knee-jerk. You know, that reaction you can’t quite control, the barrage of senselessness that pours forth as your consciousness straggles behind, madly trying to flag you down. The foot-in-mouth. And any other metaphors you care to insert here.
An example: sitting in the park on a lovely day, my daughter befriends a few kiddos playing in the sand. One is almost albino white, the kind of white that makes you think Olaf Gustavsson or liederhosen. Another is obviously not, with coffee-bean colored skin and jet-black hair. My daughter is markedly darker than I am, the product of white American and toasted almond Latino. She’s on the middle of the sandbox spectrum, though decidedly more on the dark end. When the other hispanic kid starts acting up, to whom does the Albinoamerican turn for succor? Me. Because if I have one hispanic-looking child….
Albinoamerican: Are you that Mexican kid’s mommy?
Me (shock and dismay registering clearly): NO!!!
It’s only several minutes later that I’m able to actually corral my tongue, and by that time, my mind has caught up. Why was I so adamantly NOT the “mexican kid’s mom”? Why, oh why, was I dismayed to be linked to the little Latino? Do I have latent prejudices that churn beneath my otherwise tolerant exterior? Am I harboring some kind of festering, racially intolerant position?
I don’t think so. It’s the knee-jerk. It’s my tongue running away, the proverbial rudder which turns the ship. I married a Latino, of course, so there was something (a great deal) I found attractive, lovely, and desirable about that dark skin, the tanned-even-in-winter smoothness that I hoped my kids would have.
In intercultural communication class, we’re taught that the very act of not noticing difference is prejudice. In other words, when people say, “I don’t even notice he’s black”, it’s a devaluing of that person’s uniqueness. A way of saying that you’re blind to a key characteristic of that person. Ultimate cultural relativism is, in itself, blindness.
My daughter is coffee-colored, albeit coffee with a good bit of cream. And my son is as white as a gringo can get. And they’re lovely. Just as lovely as the hispanic kid. Just as lovely as the Albinoamerican.
This possessor of the knee-jerk? SO proud to be the mommy to the Latina and the gringo. And any other little coffee beans that may come along, wherever they may land on the sandbox spectrum.