My daughter is a half-black, half-Hispanic child adopted into a family of white people. She knows what it’s like to be different from everyone around her. Our town, though small, is more diverse than most towns its size. She has children in her class who are black, hispanic, and biracial like her, though she’s still in the minority.
As the daughter of a college football coach and the sister of a high school football player, Issie sees a lot of football games. She was only 8 months old when she went to her first game and has been to at least 10 games a year since. At 8 years old, she’s been to college games, youth games, middle school games, and high school games and seen many players and their families of different sizes and colors. That’s why it can surprise me when she points out people’s differences.
One Friday night, as fans of the visiting team, we walked into a stadium at a high school where the student body is predominately black. Surrounded by several parents and a player’s girlfriend, Issie points to the players warming up on the field and yells, “Look! Black people!”
Without missing a beat, I said in a loud voice (though not quite as loud as her), “I know. And look. Black cheerleaders. Aren’t they pretty?”
Everyone around me—all white—looked at me like I had lost my mind. Trying to keep a straight face, I said, “We’re always looking for people who look like Issie.”
Is it bad parenting? Possibly. Without a guidebook, we’re all just making it up as we go along anyway. My fear is that if I tell her to lower her voice or avoid her reactions, it will give the impression that differences are wrong. She was right. The players on the field were black. She was just pointing out the obvious about something she doesn’t see every day. And the cheerleaders, several of whom looked like her, were very pretty.
I do the same when she points out people with disabilities. There is a boy that we cross paths with often who has paralysis on the left side of his face. More than once, Issie has asked within his earshot what happened to his face. “I don’t know,” is always my answer. Then I find something to compliment about him. He has on cool shoes or he’s always so nice.
Years ago, a woman I knew told me a story about attending a wedding with a Hindu priest present. Someone asked him why there are so many religions. He gave an answer I’ve never forgotten: “There are different religions for the same reason there are different kinds of flowers,” he said. “To make the world a more beautiful place.”
I’ve always thought the same can be said about different kinds of people. People of different colors and different abilities make the world a more beautiful and interesting place. I hope that by responding to my daughter’s comments with her same level of enthusiasm, I’m helping her see that.