Thursday, October 27, 2011

A day of race...

A somewhat local science museum has a new exhibit up, one that's been touring the country, about race. I went to the museum with Ambrose today and got to check out the exhibit but only briefly. It's definitely something I'll be going back to see, and perhaps next time I'll just walk Ambrose around until he takes his nap in his stroller, allowing me to read and watch the videos.

Of course, seeing the snippets that I did got me thinking about race, how it defines so many of us (if not all), and how it affects so much (if not all) of our society. Also, when I'm at this particular museum I tend to think about race anyway. The city I live in is quite diverse, and aside from some areas I tend to find that wherever we got there is such a mix of races, and our whole family is met so warmly, that I forget about race entirely. Families like ours are common here, and every place from the playgrounds to the libraries, to the children's museum and so on contains such a variety of people from different races, ethnic groups, cultures, countries, etc.... It's beautiful and wonderful.

And yet this other museum, which I love, is typically far more... um, pale. Like, I see a LOT of white people and many pale skinned Asian people, and sometimes a transracial adoptive family with a white parent. Sometimes there will be a school group with an African American student or two, and sometimes you might even see one family of African Americans. But that's usually it. Despite the fact that I don't notice our individual races in my own city, when I'm one city over I can certainly feel the difference.

Today we ate lunch in the cafe of the museum, which serves awful food but, eh, it's convenient. A family came over to sit near me and Ambrose. A grandmother, mother, and two children. I want to say they were Chinese since I'm pretty certain they were speaking Mandarin, but I wasn't exactly eavesdropping and obviously I don't know them so I don't know their history.

What I do know is that when the grandmother came over the claim the table she was carrying the younger child, a boy about A's age, in her arms. And the look she gave to Ambrose...

Then the mother came over, looked at our family quickly and a bit warily, but set the food down anyway. I saw them exchange glances and heard them say... something. In a language I don't know. But it's not the first time we've received odd looks, though it is rare.

Then... the other child, a little girl around 4, came around the corner to get to her seat. She saw Ambrose. And that child... backed away. She was scared. There was honest to God fear in her eyes. A child was frightened of my dark skinned toddler, who was smiling and waving and calling "Hello Friend!" from his seat as he ate cheese fries, getting himself all messy and gooey.

The mother kept looking at Ambrose nervously but called the girl over and tried to calm her down and help her slide past my son. I saw both the mother and grandmother trying to say something to her, sort of a "don't be scared, it's not a big deal."

And it hit me... This may be a revelation for them. They truly seemed like they did not expect the little girl's reaction.

It just... well, it broke my heart. Because my happy, vivacious, social little boy just kept waving and smiling and telling me what his "friend" was doing.

I tried to ignore it, told myself that they were not speaking English and were possibly visiting from their home country where perhaps they had never seen anyone who looked like Ambrose up close. Perhaps this was a first experience and they truly did not expect what they saw.

But before we left the little girl started to complain to her mother about her apple juice. I know this because the girl spoke perfect American English. ... yeah.


So that weighed heavily on my heart and mind all day, and it's a PMS sorta day so it probably weighed more than it should.

Tonight we went trick or treating at my grandmother's nursing home. I was not really looking forward to it. On the one hand, it's hard to see my grandmother. The exuberant, happy, "second mother" to me has wasted away to a twig of a person who hasn't recognized me in 10 years, though she'll happily hold a conversation with me. On the other hand, the kids didn't get much sleep last night and they were so, so tired. And so was I. The thought of keeping them out late to run around a totally overstimulating environment and collect candy... oh, I was so not in the mood. But it only comes once a year...

So we went.

And I'm very, very glad we did.

Because again, race was on my mind.

And this time?

This time I saw very, very old people, Southern people who lived through the Civil Rights Movement, who saw desegregation, who saw the entire concept of race change throughout their lives. There were people of many races and nationalities in the home, all living in their rooms side by side, happy and smiling at the children. And what really got to me was the thought that some of the same men joking with my children, some of the same women petting their hands and stroking their cheeks, would probably not have even thought of doing such a thing to these very same children when they were my age.

I walked into the rooms of people who had spent their life in privilege due to race at a time when race, more than anything, determined your fate. People who likely attended white pools or drank from white fountains or went to white schools. People who saw my children and smiled these huge, incredible smiles and reached down for them just to feel their soft skin and hear their innocent words, people who felt nothing but love for them, even in that brief instant. And it shocked me, the power of it all. How many of these same kind people had performed unkind acts? How many had said unkind things? How many benefited from the pain of others? How many didn't agree with what they saw around them, but went along with it anyway so as not to disturb the peace? And how many are so, so happy to see how the world is changing? Unless I interview them, personally, I'll never know will I?

What I do know is this: When Nik was taking a walk through the halls with Ambrose a woman stopped him to ask about A. Nik said that A was our son, that we had adopted him, and the woman was blown away! Nik tells me she was outright ecstatic. Her own sister had married a black man in 1947 and, given the racial climate, they had run away to Mexico to be together. The woman is trying to get in contact with that side of her family now, find her sister or her sister's children. The US has changed a lot in 64 years. Such a short time when you think about it....

I'm so glad we went tonight, if only because we gave this one woman hope. Hope that our country really is changing, and has changed so much, so that now we really can love each other openly regardless of race. Yes, we still have a long way to go but man have we come far!


And with that... I leave to finally go clean the dishes. Kids are asleep in their beds, Nik finishing up some work, and The Office will be on in 15 minutes. Ah, it's a good night :-)

1 comment:

manymanymoons said...

This did my heart good. Thank you for posting it.