Not Even Noticing
The ultimate in not being racist is to not even notice. My neighbor and office assistant Ann Henry told me about a video of a kindergartner who asked his mom for a new, very short haircut. He wanted his hair to match his friend’s exactly. “That way our teacher won’t be able to tell us apart!” He thought this was a clever trick. The video shows the two boys cuddling and playing after the new buzz cut. It never occurred to them that their different races—one white and the other black–would have any bearing on the effectiveness of their planned deception.
I have to admit I still notice race, and so do most of the people I know. This weekend’s family wedding in Arizona brought the pervasiveness of racism to mind. It seems to be always on our minds, even though in Laguna we have less exposure than most communities to the many races in our country. We seem to need to understand where we and others fit into the vast human complex. Ancestry.com encourages us to discover our roots, and with that knowledge see ourselves within categories.
At our table one woman in her 40s explained her unease. “My parents are both Mexican. They were born here, but they speak Spanish. They identify with being Mexican. I look Hispanic, but I don’t speak Spanish. Where do I fit?”
At this wedding the bride was Navajo and the groom was Mexican-Guatamalan American. The wedding party wore combination attire, the bride in a white fluffy sparkly gown and veil, the groom in white jacket and white cowboy hat. Groom’s men had matching black cowboy hats, black outfits and cowboy boots. Bride’s maids dressed in purple. Mother of the bride tread in moccasins, dad in cowboy boots.
The reception hall was full and the crowd divided itself, with the Navajos on the right and the mixed bunch of us non-Native Americans on the left. There were a lot more moccasins, turquoise and men’s braids on the right side of the room, but there were the same amount of cell phone photos being taken, clapping, watching the cake being cut, and dancing to the DJ throughout.
In the middle of the reception one of the bridesmaids went to the microphone, “I want to honor our mom and dad. They never had any children of their own, but they took each of us in and made us their family.” Mom and Dad were surrounded by about seven women and girls, including the bride. All had been raised by this generous couple. Each of them danced with their dad. Mom stood by with the youngest girls, maybe 5- and 8-year olds who clung to her side. After the couple danced briefly together, the whole family embraced in the center of the dance floor. With this warm-hearted moment I felt the people in the room had come together with a deeper understanding beyond the categories and appearances that distinguished the group they belonged to.
When I talked to the groom about his new wife and her family’s expression of thanks, he replied, “she had a hard time growing up, but it’s all good now.”
We as a nation have had a hard time growing up too. Coming together person to person will make it all good, so good we will stop noticing into what category someone should fit.
Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former City Council member.