The other day, I was browsing Lisa Belkin’s “Motherlode” blog on the New York Times website when I stumbled on this post, discsussing the saga of an alleged racial faux pas by “momblogger” Jackie Morgan MacDougall. Apparently, a year ago MacDougall shared the story of how her three-year-old son, brought by her husband to see her at the office, saw her African-American co-worker and blurted out, “Mommy, why is her face brown?”
I was completely mortified. What was I doing wrong that he would he say something like that? Aren’t we all supposed to be colorblind and not notice the differences in people? But as soon as I got over myself, I quickly realized that his asking about her skin was no different from him pointing out I have blue eyes, and not hazel like his or why I have “dots” (aka freckles) on my arms.
I asked my co-worker to field the question because I was interested in hearing how she’d like it answered. She explained to him that people come in all colors and her skin is just darker than his. He waited a beat–thought about what she said–and then asked if we could watch Toy Story 2 for the ten thousandth time.
What I learned from my preschooler that day is that recognizing differences in each other is not harmful, racist, or prejudice–it’s natural. It’s when you judge or treat someone differently because of those differences that’s hurtful. And that was the furthest thing from his sweet three-year-old mind.
The post sat there quietly for nearly a year with only two comments (the first quite positive, praising MacDougall’s wisdom, the second neutral), until it was discovered by another blog in May and became fodder for debate. Champions of “anti-racist parenting” flocked to MacDougall’s blog to accuse her of “white privilege” and call her post “disgusting.” She was castigated for everything from punting the question to her co-worker — and thus forcing a person of color to be a spokeswoman for her race — to having the temerity to think that being “colorblind” is a good thing.
There was more criticism after Belkin publicized the debate. Well, now, MacDougall offers profuse apologies that brings to mind the “self-criticism” sessions of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as well as the horror of a character in George Orwell’s 1984 who learns he’s been guilty of “thoughtcrime.”