My oldest son and I have a tradition of playing games together that goes back to before he was born (seriously). A few years ago, while playing one of our favorite role-playing video games, we decided to make new characters to play in the virtual world. Once finished, I looked at his character only to find that he made the skin color of his hero white, while mine was brown skinned. I asked him why he made the character white.
He shrugged “I don’t know, I just like my heroes to be white.” His response cut me to the core, but I replied that I liked my heroes to look like me, and left it at that.
The reason his response hurt so much, wasn’t about the character he played, but the fact that when he thought of someone who could stand up against evil, save those who mattered most, do things that others find impossible, he didn’t imagine someone who looked like him. It made me question how he saw himself. What did he see when he looked in the mirror? Did he see the intelligent, compassionate boy I knew? Did he understand the vast amount of potential he possesses, pouring from every pore, his existence swimming in a world of possibilities? Or did he see just some brown skinned kid with glasses, only good enough to play in a world of other’s fantasies?
Luckily, all three of my kids are smarter than me, so he got the message. He mixes up the skin colors now. He understands that worth can come in any shade or package. He gets it. I think most of his friends get it too. We live in a predominantly white neighborhood, town, state. My kids have never reported anything closely resembling racist incidents or attitudes happening to them at school, or with their friends. So, it seems to me that the best thing I can do is get out of their way.
I’m forced to examine my thoughts and prejudices so that I don’t pollute his thinking with bad habits or perceptions of events that happened to me. Sure, he’ll have to endure the fatherly talks about safety as a black male and learn the history of our nation, both the good and the bad, but he should be able to do that without a prescription to hate others, handed out and signed by me.
People always ask the same question when race comes up, as it inevitably does in concerned circles these days. They want to know what they can do to combat the evils of injustice. They want to make sure they aren’t part of the problem. The answer starts with a simple mandate. Forge relationships with people unlike yourself. The power of that practice will often reveal that there is more that binds us together than separates us.