“Just Like Snowflakes” — A Commentary on Race

I didn’t write this, but I wish I had.

I used to write for a website called Helium, where aspiring writers could post pieces and rate each other’s work.  Helium has since closed down as a writing site and someone else owns the address, but this was so good an essay that I saved it.  I recently found it in my Helium file and decided to share since it seems particularly apropos right now.

I did try to find the author; I Googled “Just Like Snowflakes” and got 46,100 hits, so I’m open to detective suggestions.  For the record, the original (and now obsolete) URL was http://www.helium.com/items/1311956-racism-nationalities-teaching-children-race-relations-different-races-race-education-for-kids.


Just like snowflakes

The best way I can explain how I taught my children about racial differences is by telling you a true story about a shopping trip with my three-year-old son.  I will never forget that day when we ended up in the checkout line behind a black lady.

First, let me say that I picked the term black on purpose, and for a very good reason.  All of my dark-skinned friends don’t like the term African-American, since none of them have been to Africa in their lives.  They are offended by that term, and ask that if I do refer to them descriptively, they are black and just plain Americans.  If any person is offended by this, please don’t be.  If you are from Africa, then I believe the term applies.  Or if someone asked me to use the African-American term, I would.   I have only met one person that was from Africa, and he preferred to be described as a black person as well.  He was also an American and thought of himself that way…so did I.  That is why I use the term black; I don’t believe this is a bad word since my father was from Ireland and I am fine with white, not Irish-American.  I am not making any political statement, it’s just that we (my family) do not pay attention to skin color, so when writing about racial differences, I like to make it clear why I chose my words, since words are so powerful.  I wanted no misunderstandings, and especially no hurt feelings.  Also, my dark-skinned or black friends and I call each other by our names, of course, and I didn’t know this lady’s name, so I have to describe her appearance. It’s just that simple.

Anyway, I will get back to my story.

My son noticed that this lady was very dark-skinned and said, “Mommy, look!  That lady is purple!  He said this extra loud, of course.

My three-year-old didn’t have any other settings on his invisible volume knob.  If any do, please write me back…and I am referring to when they are excited.  My son does understand good manners.  He was just thrilled to see someone so different.  He was going to preschool at a school with many children from all over the world, but it is a small school and at the time he just didn’t happen to meet anyone with that particular skin tone.

Anyway, I was horrified when the lady turned to me and was obviously deeply offended…but it wasn’t the offended look that bothered me as much as the hurt I saw in her eyes.  I can only imagine the myriad of ignorant comments that she had heard in her lifetime.  I looked her straight in the eye, as I wondered how she had been treated in the past by narrow-minded individuals who think that skin color means anything other than, literally, the color of your skin.

I then said, to my son, while still looking at the lady, “Yes, honey, but it is not polite to shout, not even when you see someone so pretty.”

She looked at me for a moment, silent.

I broke our silence and said, “You know, I envy you.  When you are twenty years older, you will probably look exactly the same as you do now.  I have noticed that with your particular skin tone, the skin tends to stay firm and soft in appearance, and has a kind of glow.  I really can’t blame him for noticing.”

My son was paying absolutely no attention to my one way discussion now, but was instead, desperately trying to reach the shelf next to us from the seat of the cart. He was interested in a bag of candy. If you are a mother, you realize that the placement of the candy is a deliberate act by the store owner, who sadistically places it there at the checkout isle in order to torture mothers, while driving up candy sales at the same time.

This lady didn’t know what to make of me, but I wasn’t finished with my discussion, and she seemed to be interested.  She just looked at me with a sort of “edge of your seat” curiosity.

“My father was Irish, and I am really pale, as you can see.  I’m afraid I inherited his genes and will not be so lucky with battling the wrinkles!  See, it has already started,” I said, then leaned toward her pointing to the crow’s feet beginning to form next to one of my eyes.

She looked at me and with a tear about to fall from one eye, smiled and said, “It doesn’t matter, because I’ll just bet that you won’t have any wrinkles where it counts…on the inside.”

I smiled back and said, “Thanks. That is the nicest thing I have heard all day.”

She responded by saying, “Thank you…me too.”

We both laughed, and parted ways.  On the way home, I started to think about what my son had said and decided it was time to bring this subject up again.  We had touched on this before, but not in detail due to his age.  We went home and I sat him down and we looked at a magazine together.  I showed him as many nationalities as I could find.  It was one of those Hollywood magazines, so I found a wide variety of individuals.

I explained to him where each person came from and their features, and emphasized how different we all look and how beautiful the differences are.  I also told him about a friend of mine who was from China; she wanted to have her eyes surgically altered to look like ours.  I had shown him a picture of a woman in the magazine from China, and he turned the pages back and pointed to the woman in the picture and said, “You mean like her eyes?”

I confirmed that my friend’s eyes were very similar to the woman in the picture.

He gave me a strange look when I said that but then his face quickly changed to excitement and he said, “Hey, do you think she would give me her old eyes when she gets new ones? Those are cool!”

I explained, of course, that it didn’t work that way and you couldn’t just pop them in and out.

He then asked, “Why would she want to throw away her pretty eyes, Mommy?”

I thought a minute and then explained that some people in this world think everyone should be the same, look the same and live the same way, but that is not what life is all about.  It is our differences that make us interesting and unique.  I also told him not to mention things like the color of other’s skin or their eyes, as he did in the store, unless he was paying a compliment.  I explained that he might, not meaning to, hurt someone’s feelings.

He understood, and he told me that he thought it would be boring if everyone looked like him, and he was glad that God made us all different.

He was then struck with another epiphany…and jumped up off the bed and said, “I know, we are just like snowflakes…none of us are exactly the same!”

I stared at him for a moment, beaming….now with a tear waiting to fall from my eye this time, and said, “That’s right, son; we are all just like snowflakes.”

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