My son was born 6 weeks early and we were cautioned against too much outside contact. So, we complied and were cautious for the first few months of his life.
We've been blessed - he's thrived as far as we (and our pediatricians) can tell.
In due time, we've tried to expose him to diversity - of time, space, person, experience, tastes, travel... and he accepts what we throw at him. Sometimes, he doesn't agree with our choice of food or music or crowd. He lets us know when he's uncomfortable and we try to be sensitive to his signs.
But he never said "I'm uncomfortable because they don't look like me".
Of course, at 6, 10, 15 months, he can't.
Until he can.
And I didn't understand how important that was - as an artist, as a student of anthropology, as a teacher of diversity, as an advocate for listening to unheard voices.
Until he told me.
As an artist and educator, I've tried to be progressive and understanding and democratic. I DO know what it's like to be devalued and abused and taken for granted, but I also see other folks who look like me on the outside, even if I don't know what they look like on the inside.
We had a dear friend visit whose son is similar in age to mine. He's also light skinned and light haired and on several occasions, my dear boy just wanted to hug this young compatriot. It was if he was saying, "Oh! You look like me! We're the same size! We make the same sounds! You have the same coloring! We walk the same! You are like me! THANK YOU!!"
He just seemed so gracious so be in the presence of someone LIKE HIM.
And I felt so sad.
Sad because he's been with other children, but they don't look like him. Sad because he's been with adults who love him, but don't look like him. Sad because in all of my experience and education, I didn't realize how important this was... until I did.
So, to the students and friends and people for whom I advocate... I may not look like you, but I see you. And I hear you. And I'm aware that it's important to have someone to whom you excitedly say, "You look like ME!"
Thank you, dear boy...
And to those with whom I share differences... I'm interested in the ways we can work together. Please, could we talk...?