The other day I settled in to read my son a book about fire fighters. He is in love with all things fire fighter, partly because Dad is a volunteer firefighter for our mountain town. Well, I opened the book and found to my sadness that every single firefighter in the story was a white man, and they were fireMEN, not fighters. As I read to my son, and he gazed avidly at the detailed and engaging illustrations, all I could think about was Crayola multicultural magic markers.
I will order some brown-hued markers and crayons from the good ol' big south American river and edit this and other books. Babar has been banned from our house due to overt African colonialism, and Curious George's early life in the U.S. is not a part of my son's knowledge base, as George was kidnapped from his brown mother and brought to live with the white people. Not every children's book is so potentially offensive, and I can't say if my son found it upsetting at all. All he saw was his beloved fire house and gear. But deep inside his capacious brain, I wonder if there is anything that registers when he sees books like that. All-white, all-white, all-white. Does he get the message that he is invisible or different? When will I help him untangle this particular messy knot?
His hair is growing and we are sadly inconsistent about moisturizing, so his curls are a little dry. But they are black and tight, and sweet-smelling, and cling to his handsome head just as hair is supposed to do. People in our entirely white, rural area who reach out to touch his hair have no idea, I suspect, how this action frightens me. Get your ignorant hands away from my son's head, I want to shout. At the grocery store recently I frowned at two little girls and in the hearing of their father, said sternly, "didn't anyone ever teach you its impolite to stare?"
Even at home, in the quiet comfort of my son's blue bedroom, racism sticks its insidious snake-like head inside our lives. Tomorrow some magic markers can fix it. What tools will I need in the future?