My husband is German. He also has some English blood in him. Our children, though, think he is African American.
I know what you’re thinking. “What?? I don’t get it.”
Trust me. Neither do we.
Let me begin by saying my husband does have darker skin than me. I’m Irish and have very pale, white, white skin. He, though, always looks like he has a tan. And, often times he does. He’s just a darker shade than me and the rest of the family. When you look at him, though, there is no doubt he is Caucasian.
At least, there’s no doubt for me and everyone else in this world – except, of course, our kids.
It all started when our oldest daughter, Jordan, was about two years old. At the time, her dad was in Iraq and so she really only knew him by the photos we had around the house. Whenever she would see a man in a military uniform, she would point to him and say, “Da Da.”
“No, honey,” I’d say. “That’s not your Daddy.”
She did this so often, though, that I began to pay more and more attention to the soldiers she would call her Daddy. And, more times than not, they were black.
“Hmmm . . .” I thought. “That’s odd.” But, still, I wrote it off to the fact that she was seeing the uniform and thus, making the mistake.
And then, Jordan began to point to men in magazines and newspapers and call them “Da Da.” They, too, were all black.
I was chatting with Rob online one day while he was in Iraq and told him about it. “Our daughter thinks you’re African American,” I told him.
“What are you talking about?” he typed back.
“I’m not kidding. I don’t know why, but every time she sees a black man, she thinks it’s you.”
We laughed about it and then moved on with our chat.
And then, Rob came home. Around the time Jordan was 3 or 4, she became very interested the High School Musical movies. As is common with little girls, she liked to pretend that she, and all of us, were characters in the show.
“I’m Sharpay,” she would tell me, talking about the girl with the long blonde hair. “And you’re Gabriella.” I guess I had the same dark brown hair as that character.
“And, Bennett is Ryan.” That’s the tall, blonde-haired brother of Sharpay.
“Oh, okay,” I’d say, only half paying listening.
“And, Daddy is Corbin Bleu.” That got my attention.
“Who is Daddy?” I asked.
Now, for those of you who don’t have High School Musical in your life on a daily basis, Corbin Bleu is the black actor in the movie with the big, afro-like hair.
“Really?” I asked.
“Really,” she said, seriously.
“Why is Daddy Corbin Bleu?” I asked her.
“Because they both have brown skin.”
“Oh . . . “
And so it went. Whenever Jordan would point to someone she saw and say, “He looks like Daddy,” we had no doubt what race that man would be. Her idea of what Rob looked like became just a part of who she was and how her mind worked. She was unique, we decided.
That is, until our son, Bennett, was just about two years old. I was on my way to pick up Rob from work one evening and on the floor of my car I had a newspaper advertisement for Kohl’s.
“Da Da! Da Da!” I heard Bennett screaming behind me as we drove.
When I got to a light, I turned around and said, “Where’s Daddy?”
Bennett pointed to the ad on the floor. Staring up at me was a very handsome, bald male model – a very handsome, bald black male model.
“That’s Daddy?” I asked.
Bennett nodded in glee. “Da Da!” he screamed.
When Rob got in the car, I picked up the ad.
“Bennett,” I said, pointing at the model. “Who’s this?”
“Great,” Rob said, laughing. “Here we go again.”
That year, the NFL football star, Jason Taylor was on Dancing with the Stars. My kids loved to watch him dance. Whenever he was on, they’d tell me, “He looks just like Daddy! Look Mommy! It’s Daddy.”
“Sure,” I’d think. “He looks just like Daddy – if Daddy were a big, black NFL football player who could ballroom dance.”
Jordan was also a huge supporter of Barack Obama when he was running for President. In reality, she probably found him so interesting because when she was 4 years old, I took her to hear him speak. But, throughout his campaign, my friends and I would joke that she liked him so much because she thought he looked like her dad.
Jordan is now seven years old and in the 2nd grade. Last week, as she and I were driving in the car, I told her that because she had no school on this upcoming Monday, she could sleep at Grandma’s house Sunday night.
“Why don’t I have school?” she asked.
“It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day,” I said.
Not an easy question to answer, I decided. “Well,” I said, “Years ago, when Grandma was growing up and before that, black and white people weren’t allowed to do certain things together.”
“Like what things?” she asked.
“Things like eating in the same restaurant and going to the same schools. They couldn’t even sit together on a bus. And, Martin Luther King didn’t think that was right, so he fought to make sure it got changed. And, for that, we celebrate his life.”
Phew. I was proud of myself. That seemed like a pretty good and easy-to-understand explanation for a seven year old.
For a moment, there was silence in the car and I figured she was processing what I had just said.
“So . . .” Jordan said slowly. “If we were living back then, you, me, Bennett and Maclain could eat in one restaurant, but Daddy would have to eat in another?”
I almost drove the car off the road, I was laughing so hard.
“Jordan! Daddy is not black!”
“I know Daddy is not black,” Jordan said, with complete disgust in her voice. “Daddy is brown!”
AAAAAGH! I did my best to try to explain to Jordan the difference between being African American and just having darker skin. I pointed out a few of her friends who have black dads. She didn’t seem to grasp my point, nor, to be honest, really seem care.
And then, I thought, if she doesn’t care, why should I?
To Jordan, her daddy’s skin color is just a part of who he is. She doesn’t love him any more or less for it. She views the tone of his skin the same way she sees the crayons in her Crayola box. Just a color. And, because she doesn’t view her Daddy to be any different than herself, other than perhaps a little bit darker, I’ve also noticed that she never seems to view her friends with darker skin any differently either. If anything, she seems to relate to them a little bit better because they look a lot like someone she loves.
Isn’t that the essence of the message Martin Luther King, Jr. left us? When he said, in that very famous speech, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” isn’t that what he was hoping for?
That everyone, little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls included, would see the color of a person’s skin and realize it was just that. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just a color.