Seeing with your heart

Lisa Marie - Coatesville, Pennsylvania
Entered on March 21, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: children, race

I believe that children are colorblind.

In 1962, when I was six years old, my father’s job moved my family from Connecticut to Mississippi. Sent there for only eight weeks, we stayed in a log cabin on the property of a hotel on the Gulf of Mexico. Behind the hotel proper, this cabin sat in a grove of trees that backed up to a local neighborhood.

Every afternoon after school, I played with the neighborhood kids. We wandered all over, visiting their Grandmas on porches and buying penny candy at the corner store, or drinking lemonade and eating cookies in my kitchen. On warmer days, I often asked my mother if my friends could join us for a swim in the hotel pool. My mother always looked sad and said, “No, their mothers wouldn’t like it.”

At six, I accepted this reasoning; but I always wondered why my friends couldn’t swim with me. Why would their mothers object? It took me many years to figure it out.

My friends were black. The reason I had met them behind the hotel was because their mothers were maids there. They waited for their mothers behind my cabin and I accepted them as handy playmates. I saw friends, not color.

Now I teach second grade. When we learn about the struggles that people of color have had in this country, my students are puzzled. They cannot conceive of segregated pools or schools. They look around our classroom and see friends. Friends they giggle and share secrets with. Friends they race with and wrestle. We put our hands together and note, perhaps for the first time, that our skin is different. Not white, like paper. Not black, like the parking lot. We are all beautiful shades of brown, part of one family.

But I know that this family will splinter as they grow older. Ideas planted by their parents, peers and society will change them. As they grow, my students will see the colors they missed before. They will begin to differentiate and assign stations and places. The friends they have today may become the others they fear tomorrow.

Yes, I believe that children are colorblind. Their vision is colored by the ways and words of others. What we teach children can open or close their eyes, and hearts, for children see first with their hearts.

I was a lucky child.

My parents were colorblind too.