Yesterday something happened with my four year old son that I knew would happen 'someday', I just didn't know when. He, his sister, and I made a special trip to Costco for a slice of cheese pizza to give mom a break. We were sitting in the cafe area eating pizza, talking, and people watching. In the midst of this I noticed my son staring at a black man as he walked past us toward the exit. I didn't really think much of it until my son said, "Daddy I'm brown."
I was completely caught off guard. My eyes lit up. I stared back at him and said something super philosophical. "What did you say, son? (I told you, deep right)" He looked at his arms, looked back up at me and said again, "Daddy, I'm brown." I confirmed by saying, "Yes, yes you are." He then made the statement (not question), "Mommy is brown." I again responded in the affirmative. At which point he followed with, "and sister is brown."
My mind was racing at this moment. But why?
He was experiencing the world in a way that I will never completely understand. As a father you want to empathize with your children, care for them, and be that rock that understands everything they are going through because you have mostly experienced it yourself. When you have experienced something, you are often the best person to take somebody else through it. In this part of his life I cannot, nor will I ever, be able to fully understand being a shade of brown.
I realized that the best thing I could do at that moment was not throw him some non-sense that some people want to place on him. Can you imagine if I had said to him, "no, you are not brown, you are human." The beautiful thing about children, with their honesty, is they see the world as it is. I've had people tell me things like, "your wife is not black, she's half white...if anything she is a lighter shade of black" (as if that somehow makes it easier to be a person of color in the country?) or "I don't see your children as black/brown, but as white [or] [just people]." My assertion on hearing this is that they are trying to comfort me because my children are 25% black and the melanin isn't as strong.
Let's get back to my shock: I was in shock realizing now more than ever that I (as a white father) need to put myself into learner mode in perpetuity. I don't know what it is to be brown. Thus, I need to listen to those who do know. I need to listen to people who live and experience life being brown. This way, when my children have an experience and come into cognition about life as a brown person I will not minimize them and their reality (example: "yes son, slavery was real...but you would have been a house slave because you are not that black (an attempt to justify slavery)." I would be lying to you if I said I am not sad for the day that my son learns about slavery, the great migrations of the disenfranchised black community, of the Civil Rights movement that sought to expose to white America that people of color are just as human as white people, that it is mostly people of color that are poor and wrongly labeled more dangerous, etc. I am sad for these multiple days to come (because cognition and psychosocial development takes time) because it is his ancestry and it will affect him. Some day he will look at his mother and wonder, if the world had not changed, what would her place in society be, would I (him) even exist because white people could not marry black people. If generational sin is a real thing, does the white community (and my dad) still own a fault for the state of brown people today? Are we all in this together...to change the world...or am I just an 'other'? So much to process for brown children coming into adulthood. As a white man I need to put myself into a perpetual position of learner so that I can learn from the black/brown community what it is to live life in their shoes...and not minimize their experience.
Let's finish the story: When my son told me he was brown, that his mom was brown, and that his sister was brown something else stood out to me. He never said, "Daddy you are brown." Which tells me that he knows that I am a white man--his white father--married to his brown mother. This led to my next conclusion, patently obvious to me as his white father. HE IS LOOKING TO ME TO UNDERSTAND, THOUGH TACITLY, HOW A WHITE PERSON SHOULD APPROPRIATELY RESPOND TO HIM AS A BROWN BOY OF COLOR. To this I say, I WILL NOT MINIZE YOUR EXPERIENCE as a beautiful little boy of color who will grow up to be a young man of color, who will wrestle with the realities of being brown in a world where so many people want to minimize your experience, who will remind you over and over to "shhhhhh" about the brown problems of the world, to "just move on" to "deal with the brown problems yourself" because your reality is just not real.
I love you Jameson John Little. I will do my best not to minimize you, your sisters, your mother, or the brown community. And when I do minimize your color--your experience--pray that I will humble myself, confess my wrong, learn what is appropriate thinking and change my view of the world rather than tell you to change your view of living into my white worldview.