“Why’s Jesus and the good guys always white and the devil’s looking like Obama,” a little girl, hands on hips, asked an older girl at the recreation center yesterday afternoon. The center has large TV sets in the game and workout rooms, plus a computer room where kids often scan headlines that pop us during searches. The older girl, who had her back to me, shrugged and replied, “White people make everything white.”
Both girls are in my after-school chess program, and when I cleared my throat, the younger child giggled and the older one whirled around and without missing a beat said quite frankly, “Right Ms. Suhay?”
Being about as light-skinned as it gets, I was at a total loss; and rather than step into this bear trap I just said, “I’ll have to look into that and get back to you.”
People are fond of saying, “I don’t see color.” Well of course they literally see it but are saying that their mind’s eyes are “color blind.” My son, Quin, 9, heard that phrase once in this same racial context and said, “Yeah, but if you’re color blind all you see is black and white, right? So how does that sentence work in real life?”
What I have learned from the past five years of working with any and all kids and parents who live in predominantly African-American neighborhoods here in Norfolk, Va. is that color is an issue right down to which side of the chess board you choose to play. I stopped bringing black-and-white chess pieces to first-time chess sessions and substituted green versus gold and red versus blue because I could not get kids or adults to play white if they were a variant of brown themselves.