Monday, October 17, 2011

Black Is Beautiful

When I was very young, in 1970 or so, my mom took me with her sometimes to the office where she was a student intern. The receptionist there was always friendly and would talk to me or offer me pencils and paper for coloring when I was bored waiting for my mom.

One day, the receptionist had a little sign on her desk that said "Black is Beautiful."

I said, "I don't like black. I like blue the best!"

The woman laughed. My mom was mortified and apologized to the woman and took me aside and explained that the sign meant that black *people* are beautiful, and that it was meant to counter the general and wrong view that black people were some how "less worthy" than white people.

I was confused because I hadn't realized she was a "black person." When I thought about her at all (which was very rarely, really, since I was a kid and didn’t think often about others), I just thought she had a nice smile and a kind personality and pretty brown skin. And I was embarrassed for saying I didn't like black, because that wasn't what I meant!

I think that was the first time I realized that some people considered different skin color "bad." It made me sad because the woman was really nice.

Sometimes people claim that kids don't "notice" skin color until we teach them to. That's not really true, though. It wasn't that I didn't "notice" her skin color. I did, just as one notices hair color, height, and the shape of a nose. It's just that until then, I had never thought it could be a bad thing or even a defining characteristic of a person. I noticed, but without judging.

I hope our society will one day stop teaching kids that anyone's physical characteristics are "bad" or make a person "unworthy" or "less" than others.

And I thank my parents heartily for not teaching me such awful lessons.

4 comments:

LOLA said...

I really hated it when I was a reporter and the cute young thing who sat next to me was always getting called in to the publisher's office so he could tell her what a good job she was doing. I wrote rings around her and he never complimented me. Now here I am, the Queen of Grammar and so many other things, and I can't get a job. I don't think it helps that I'm 52. I still have my bodacious ta-tas, but they are starting to do some serious drooping and will be of no use soon. I really wish we, especially women, were judged according to our characters instead of our looks. People would really love me then because they always tell me what a character I am. I'm so happy you posted. You need to do this much more often.

Love,
Lola

LegalMist said...

Lola - you reminded me of another story to post. Thanks for sharing your story!

So. Cal. Gal said...

I have been disabled all my life. I have walked on crutches and now use a wheelchair. You can't imagine the times a child will look at me with curiosity and the parent will drag them away. Nice message your sending, mom and dad!

One of the nicest experiences was when a little (4 y.o.?) boy started touching my chair spokes while I was waiting in a store line.

The mom knelt down and said, "Say 'hi' to the nice lady." He did. Then she explained that he was touching a wheelchair and I had to use it because my legs weren't as healthy as his legs were.

I could've kissed her feet!

LegalMist said...

So. Cal. Gal. -- many folks learned that exact behavior from their own parents, because so many parents are afraid their kids will ask "inappropriate" questions and offend someone. It is hard, as a parent, to know when to let your kids be curious and when someone just wants to be left alone and/or might be (understandably) tired of answering potentially intrusive and certainly "none-of-your-business" type questions about their disability over and over again. That said, there's no reason to treat strangers in wheelchairs any differently than strangers on legs. If you'd let your kid talk to a stranger on legs in line at the grocery, why not let them talk to a stranger on crutches or in a wheelchair? Certainly no need to drag them away!