Oh sure, I knew it existed, but it was in the past. Slavery, segregation, bigotry. Separate water fountains and schools and sections of buses. All a shameful part of American history. Not something still hovering.
When Andrew and I got married, I was shocked at the amount of times people would ask if we planned to have kids. The question was usually asked by elderly, well meaning people. I always answered that we would of course have kids and wrote it off as part of their generation. After all, it's the South and it hasn't been all that long since segregation was very real here.
People were just uneducated, naive. It was just the way they were raised.
And I wouldn't be raising my kids that way.
Skin color wouldn't matter in my house. We would value all people and teach tolerance and acceptance.
Race comes up often around here lately. Josie notices that my skin is so different then hers. She strokes my arm and says she wishes she could match me. And I acknowledge that. How many of us want to trade hair, trade body size, trade places with other people.
I use it as a conversation starter. We talk about how no matter what color we are, we belong to each other. We discuss other families that look different, how Nana and Daddy don't match either, how our insides, the parts that matter, match just right. Isn't she so thankful that we can be friends and family with all races of people and isn't it great how different God made us all?
And I thought we were in the clear. Years away from the tough stuff, light years past the racist history of our town.
But recently, I had my very first encounter with how backwards our world still is. How hateful words can sting.
We were out for a walk and a man riding a bike past us said something along the lines of, "You should be ashamed. Going against your own people. Disgusting."
I say, "something along those lines," because while I could hear the hate in his voice, it took me a few minutes to spiral back and comprehend what he meant. To dust off the shock and confusion and piece his words back together.
Is he talking about my babies? Is he throwing hate at them? Does he mean because I'm white and they aren't? Here, in 2013?
It's taken me months to share this with anyone because, y'all, it's awful.
It's come back to me daily as I've tried so hard to understand it. It's the worst feeling I've ever felt, a pit in my stomach that twists and tugs. I hate that I wasn't able to respond to him. I hate that people like that exist. I hate that, while my babies did not hear what he said, I won't be able to protect them from that ignorance forever.
Who says that?
And about children?
I've been carrying this around with me.
Tossing it over and trying to understand it. Trying to think of how people can believe such lies about things that are so untrue. My babies are the most beautiful creatures I've ever laid eyes on. They are kind and generous and full of funny stories. They are smart and they love everyone.
Just now am I grasping that there is no understanding it. There is no making sense of it. There is no excusing it.
As a middle class white woman, I was fairly certain I would never feel racism. And while I knew it before, words can be used as weapons. That whole, words can never hurt me, just isn't true. Words do hurt. Even when we are fully aware that they are untrue and don't matter. They still cut and bruise and, my God, how do I protect my babies from that?
That man, who has no clue who I am, has left a mark on me.
It's not a bad thing. I've decided that I'm glad I heard him. That I felt that pain and confusion. I want it to bring more awareness to me. I want it to remind me of how cruel this world was, is, to so many people.
And I want to stand on the hills and let me kids hear me call out how wonderful all people are. Race, religion, wealth, whether you live like we do are totally different, it doesn't matter. I want acceptance to be written on their hearts. I want their generation to feel the sting a little less then the generation before. I want the change to grow with them and their friends.
I want them to look in the mirror and be proud of what they see.
I've come to accept that I can't keep them from ever hearing ignorant comments about our family or their skin or a combination of the two. But I can teach them to see that the problem doesn't lay with them but with the person holding that hatred.
Our country has come a long way, but we still have so far to go.
* do pictures of adorable ballerinas soften the hardness of this topic? they make me feel better.