My 10-year old son, P, reported with amusement on a conversation he and his friends had in the carpool on the way to soccer practice. My husband was driving my son and two boys, one an immigrant from Somolia and one Oromo. We’ve known these boys only for a few months now. B, the Oromo boy, ventured to ask my son, “Is he your real dad?” My son, who probably hasn’t thought much about his racial identity yet, says that he replied, “Yes! Who else would be?” B quickly said to the other passenger, “See, Z? I told you that’s his dad.” My son said he asked, “Did you think someone else was?” B responded tentatively something about P not looking much alike his dad. P says he laughed and went through the list of physical differences we have talked about at home – noses, hairy-ness, and other. P says that he ended with, “And my hair’s black and his [gesturing] is” and B filled in, “Gray!” which caught my husband’s ear. At 43 and only the start of a bit of silver around his ears, this is a subject of some teasing in our family.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, my family traveled to a small town on the east side of Washington State to visit friends. While there, we attended the town’s day-after-Thanksgiving pre-Christmas community chili gathering. Many of the town’s residents were in attendance at this festive annual event. It was the first gathering of this size that I’ve attended in awhile at which no other people of color were present. It was the first time my children had been at such a gathering.
The family-style tables were crowded by the time we were looking for seats, so we set the kids up at one table and we adults found space at another. Later I learned that my twelve-year old chatted with a friendly man next to him. He reported that, “Mom, he asked, ‘Where are you from?’ and when I told him Seattle, he said, ‘No, where are you originally from?'” and it was the first time it occurred to my son that based on his appearance someone assumed he couldn’t be from Seattle. It’s amazing to me that it’s taken twelve years for this to happen. I think the world must be changing – or at least some of it!