It all started innocuously enough.
I was doing work on my laptop while Max played nearby. I am an attorney so I had to search for a law firm’s contact information. After a quick Google search, I found the firm’s website. I clicked on the link and was immediately greeted by a row of middle-aged white men in suits with big smiles, one of them cradling a distinction award of some kind.
I couldn’t help but mutter, “Well, that’s a lot of white men.”
Max, being three years old and inquisitive about literally every damn thing, perked up and asked, “What white men?”
On the other hand, I realized, this is the perfect teachable moment!
I think we can all agree that we live in tumultuous times, whichever side of the political spectrum you may fall. And race can’t help but be in the forefront of my thoughts these days, with all the talks about the Muslim ban and Mexico border wall. You see, I am Asian-American. And in America, that means I have always been a minority.
So race matters.
I sometimes forget about race, living in NYC, one of the most diverse areas of the county. There are even places where I look around and everyone is Asian or Asian-American. But travel outside the metropolitan area and I become far more race-conscious, by necessity.
As a minority, I have to be even more acutely aware of the importance of raising tolerant children that embrace diversity and multiculturalism.
So back to Max. I had him sit on my lap while I Googled some images for race + diversity where I come across a picture collage featuring people of all different races, genders, ages, and orientation.
The entire time, I am secretly patting myself on the back for using this as an opportunity to introduce him to the concept of race.
I pointed to the following picture:
And I asked, “Which of these people do you think looks most like you?”
Of course, I fully expect him to point to the picture on the bottom left. The East Asian male, with glasses, who sort of looks like his dad, but not really. After which, I would explain that each person has a different race and nationality and we would have a toddler-led discussion on diversity.
Instead, he pointed to the man on the top left.
Yes, the black male.
The art of being a parent includes sounding neutral even when you have no idea what the f*ck is going on.
“Oh? And why is that?”
“Because he has an oval face. Like me!”
Whoosh. The air left my body.
In that moment, it hit me. Max has no concept of race. People are not similar or different because of race. In his three year old eyes – eyes far wiser than mine – people are similar or different for characteristics that have nothing to do with skin color or ethnicity. That’s not what’s important.
And, he’s right.
What was supposed to be a teachable moment for him was, in fact, a lesson for me. A reminder that we are all born human and don’t discern race until we are taught to do so.