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Skin

My family and I live in NYC and send our two children to private schools.  Both the schools are liberal, if I were to label them.  Yet, my youngest Everest, who hails from Ethiopia, is the only person “of color” in his pre-K classroom, which we have found surprising given the very liberal leanings of the school.  A couple of weeks ago the inevitable occurred and one of his classmates asked the teacher during their roundtable floor time why it was that Everest was the only child in the classroom with dark skin.  Of course, being singled out as “the only one…” was disconcerting for Everest and for a few minutes he sought the safe shelter of his teacher’s comforting lap.  As an aside, when I recounted this story to a friend (of color) he laughingly pointed out that for a 5 year old, all of whom are desperate to just fit in, even being singled out as the class’s only billionaire would have been troubling.


I received a call from Everest’s teacher that evening during which she recounted the event for me.  I also received an email from the parents of the classmate who had asked the very innocent question, in which they apologized on behalf of their daughter for having hurt Everest, whom they adore.

As I reflected upon this with my wife we both reached the same conclusion.  The classmate had done nothing wrong.  Her observation, that Everest has darker skin than the rest of the class, could have been just as easily had when observing a classmate who returned from a winter vacation to Hawaii with a deep tan.  To us, the color of a human being’s skin means absolutely nothing.  Yet, of course, we do understand that this is sadly not the case for most people in our nation.  There are those who will judge a person by this, which to us is about as loony as loony can be.  And this judgment orientation is not confined to just those with lighter skin.  What we’ve found is that those with dark skin, like Everest, also judge and identify or categorize people quite pervasively by skin color.  Most confounding for us is the tendency of friends with darker skin advising us to treat Everest differently because of his skin color.  This may include suggesting that we make sure he’s around people with his shade of skin, or that we do other things that amount to treating him differently.  While we know that these recommendations are always supremely well intended, we can’t help but feel as though they would only serve to perpetuate the discrimination that those forwarding the advice would surely love to end.

Why can’t we look at shades of skin color like we do when people get tanned going to the beach?  What more to it is there than that?  Our son doesn’t see himself as being any different than me or other’s in our family because of his beautiful skin color, and we will never see him as being different.

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