Thank God My Daughter's Class Isn't Just Full of White People
Photos by Lynda Rouner
As my daughter and I were walking to her third day of kindergarten I had a really proud moment as a parent. Amid the endless monologue being constantly recited came this exchange.
"Saanvi* and I are really different, but that's OK," she said.
"How are you different?" I asked, expecting the answer to revolve around her tablemate's Indian heritage.
"She doesn't have an electric toothbrush," replied the kid with the utmost sincerity.
That's the sort of thing that makes you really glad you live in a city as diverse as Houston is, and the benefits of exposing a child to people outside their own race as often as possible. My daughter's class has the widest ethnic range I've ever seen. Pretty much the entire list of options on the census card are represented.
If there's any real problem with my fellow honkeys in this country right now it's that way too many people clearly see themselves as the default normal setting in this big old video game of life. What else are they going to think? Television and film and video games are a parade of heroic white skin, with other ethnicities being peppered in as spices. If you don't believe me, look at the outrage of fans of The Hunger Games who were upset to learn a black actress would be cast to play Rue... a character that is clearly written to have dark skin. There was even a backlash against Cho Chang being played by Chinese-Scottish actress Katie Leung because even though her name is more Chinese than chopsticks, fans were still imagining her in their heads as white.
It's not exactly racism, although of course racists do it, too. It's more of a cultural colorblindness. The demographics of the city and America as a whole have changed greatly in the last couple of decades, but there is still this idea that in any gathering of people unless there is a specific mention of race then everyone will be assumed to be white.
I think that's kind of a terrible thing because it means when someone makes a movie they only bring out a black guy when they need a criminal and they only have Asians when kung needs fu-ing. The human brain is amazing, but it is also incredibly lazy. All the other sexy lawyers you've seen on screen before were white, yours will be white too because making them anything else involves moving from just "person" to "ethnic person".
The continued segregation in America is insidious, subtle, and powerful. Without even knowing it, a white person can suddenly look around and realize, hey, there's nothing but white folks here. No one put up a sign that said Whites Only, but it happens anyway and the reason is because you learn to see that as perfectly normal in any given situation. Nothing wrong with it at all.
Except all you have to do is look at prison statistics for black Americans and the racial make-up of the Fortune 500 to see that there is something deeply wrong with it.
A world like that in the future is a bit harder to imagine when a school makes such homogeneity all but impossible. Every lunch time, recess, and group project my daughter has a rainbow of people around her, and she's a part of their rainbow just as they are a part of hers.
*Not her real name.