I’ve talked a lot about the importance of teaching children language they can use to call out injustice and fight racism when they see it, and I always wonder if my son Dylan,* now 7 synthesizes what I say, when I talk about valuing people for who they are, as opposed to what they look like.
I learned today that indeed has been listening and does understand when he called me on it. I was pressing my front side into the cold milk on the second shelf as I strained to reach the lone can of Diet Dr. Pepper all the way in the back on the top shelf of the dairy section at the grocery store, when a very tall man turned the corner and came sauntering down the isle. “Oohh, Mr. Tall Man, can you help me?” I asked with excitement. It just slipped out, and I apologized and told him that wasn’t right, I was so glad to have his help, etc., but I realized what if he is sensitive about his height? I pointed out to Dylan that what I said could offend someone and that it wasn’t appropriate to identify someone or define them by their appearance.
Luckily my friendly helper made it to the check-out counter while we were still there, and I said, “I’m sorry to have identified you by your appearance. I certainly didn’t mean it as an insult, but then my son asked me how I would feel if someone addressed me as “Mrs. Short Woman,” and I realized I probably wouldn’t like it.”
He just smiled at me, and then looked at my son. “Thanks buddy for looking out for me,” he said.
(Note to Anti-racist parents-I realize this isn’t about race, but it is a question of embracing difference in people and not defining people by their difference, and communicating this in a way to teach my child. Note to grocery store/in-store promotions team-who drinks more diet soda? Women. Why is it all the way in the back on the top shelf?)