My daughter and I were snuggled up tight underneath a fuzzy blanket and tucked in the comfiest corner of our L-shaped leather brown couch. Sesame Street was playing on TV. She sucked her thumb and twirled her hair with her pointer finger, telltale signs of sleepiness, and I rubbed my cheek against her soft hair, breathing in the faint smell of strawberry shampoo.
As it always does in the last fifteen minutes of every Sesame Street episode, the Elmo’s World theme song began to play, the upbeat toy piano sound filling the room. And, as it always does somewhere in the last one-third of the Elmo’s World segment, was time for Elmo to “ask a baby” a question always directly related to Elmo’s theme for the day. In this particular episode, there was not only one but two babies present to answer Elmo’s question.
My daughter looked up at the TV screen at both adorable babies – chubby cheeked and staring intently at the fuzzy red creature just out of arm’s reach. She popped her thumb out of her mouth and asked me, with all the genuine inquisitiveness of an almost-three-year old, “Mommy, which baby do you like best: the black baby or the white baby?”
I turned my face to her, trying to conceal my horror. Shock and, to be honest, embarrassment, reverberated throughout my middle. My husband and I try very hard to be living examples of love toward all people. Had we somehow failed to effectively communicate this incredibly important message to our daughter?
Those feelings of guilt and inadequacy had no place there (as they often do not), and so I shoved them to the side as quickly as I could. And in that next moment I felt all the weight and simultaneous delicateness of this moment.
My toddler daughter did not ask this question because she is a horrible person and has been raised in a home that views lighter shades of melanin as superior to those with darker. No. She is simply a human being who, as scientific, psychological, and sociological tests have shown, is drawn to that which is most like her.
But what her question did reveal is that uncomfortable deep-down truth:
We don’t like what is different; we prefer same. It is a reality that feels much like pulling a giant rolling suitcase up a steep, non-working escalator: heavy.
But while those disheartening facts might be true, there was also something so delicate about that moment. It was like holding a tiny butterfly in my hand, its fragile wings beating gently against my palms. This, I thought to myself, this is how messages of racial supremacy can either perpetuate or be thwarted. This, right here, is how it can end.
I brushed my sweet girl’s light brown hair away from her hazel eyes and smiled softly.
“I like both babies best,” I said. “Both babies are really cute.”
“Me too!” She grinned big and snuggled back into me. I smoothed the blanket back over us.
What happened that day was small, seemingly insignificant. It was a conversation of about two-dozen words that took place over the course of less than sixty seconds. But the implications stretched as wide as the ocean.
There are so many ways I wish I could fix the racial tensions in this country. I wish, so badly, that people would understand how much better it is to love, to accept, to show grace. I wish it with all my heart. And sometimes it feels like I am powerless to do anything about it. But that day as we watched Elmo, my daughter showed me otherwise.
Under my roof there are three very impressionable little people with white skin. And I can use all the maternal influence I have to teach them to be kind, considerate, compassionate, empathetic kids who grow into three white-skinned adults with those same unequivocal values. It may feel like a tiny drop in the bucket that is race reconciliation, but it is my drop.
And if my one drop lands in the bucket next to yours, next to yours, next to yours, then before we know it that bucket will spill over into the world that is desperate for a message of grace upon grace.
Mamas, we may spend our days in anonymity with ambiguous stains and unidentifiable food particles dried onto our clothes, but we have the power to raise the next generation of people to love and honor and fight for one another in a way this world has never known.
Let’s do it.