A wonderful friend, whom I love more than I could ever explain in this piece, posted this cool video of children analyzing a Cheerios commercial portraying a mixed-race family.
Although the commercial is kind of old now, it is quite brilliant. However, that it was the first Cheerios commercial to depict a mixed-race family, reveals an ugly reality about our country.
As it were, my friend isn't Black, although she is a freaking awesome mother to two incredibly gifted, biracial children! In fact, she is a super-soul sister (and I mean that as inoffensively possible).
Often my friend and I differ in our positions as to how and when race should be discussed (We've had a few ugly banters on Facebook). But we understand that our lenses are very different, and I respect hers, as she does mine, particularly because they are both based on some real hard-core, life experiences; they reflect our truths!
Anyway, in the video, there is a (seemingly) diverse cross-section of kids -- all under 14-years-old -- who were observed and recorded while watching this commercial. (I say seeming because I don't believe it to have been as diverse as it could have.)
Based on what we see in the video, the kids adore the commercial, responding with comments like, "They seem like a normal family," and "Nice," "Fun!"
But not one of the children mentioned race. Not one.
This phenomenon touched my friend deeply, and, to be honest, it touched me and millions of others, too. I mean, what if it were such that our children could really endeavor to experience lives free of racism? What lives they would have! But, that simply isn't the case today, and I believe that continuing to position race as a taboo subject between white and Black people is more harmful than not.
The interviewer went on to inform the children that thousands of people were angry about the commercial, and the kids' scrunched up faces, tight eyes, and pouty lips, were dead give-aways to the confusion and disappointment they ostensibly felt toward...well...the haters.
Yet, they seemingly remained clueless to the mixed-race of the family depicted in the commercial.
Finally, the interviewer informed each child that the thousands of angry people were only angry because the dad was a black man, and the mom a white woman.
The. Kids. Went. In.
The eldest girl, 12-year-old Olivia, who happened to be white, was flooded with emotions, resisting the notion that race should ever matter, especially in matters of the heart.
And the most charismatic child, a portly, brilliant, ray of sunshine, Morgan, got all Oprah on the interviewer and the haters, dropping wisdom like Erykah Badu, explaining that "some people just fall in love like that...I don't know why they get mad at that."
But, most revealing was when 13-year-old Darius, a Black young man, interjected his personal encounters with racism into the conversation, saying, "I have some friends that [be] racist just to be funny. So, just because they do that, I do it right back. 'I don't find it funny. They think it's funny because I'm the minority.'"
Darius' comments, obviously, struck a nerve in me, for I saw them as worthy of further exploration. But somehow, the creators of this video, the Fine Brothers, in my opinion, missed the significance of them, treating them as if they were just like all the others.
But, they weren't like all of the others, and presented a very compelling argument for the need to have guided race talks with our youth, led by a diverse group of moderators, teachers, parents, and leaders.
In fact, Darius was the only kid who admitted to consciously experiencing racism. And in all fairness to the Fine Brothers, perhaps they simply didn't have the points of reference to find Darius' story worth expounding upon.
Moreover, although the Fine Brothers do a fine job of engaging a very specific group of young Americans in a very specific discussion around race, it is clear that this group was comprised mostly of children endowed with the luxury of seeing beyond race.
But in reality, many American children aren't as fortunate. They face tough racial situations daily, as Darius described in his interview.
Although we were all likely born oblivious to racial differences, (even hitler and Willie Lynch weren't born racist), something happens to most of us, inclining us to begin seeing, and often considering, race. And in way too many instances, Black people come out with the broken toothpick,
leaving Black parents the daunting task of teaching our children the safest ways to respond to race-driven danger. Being profiled as a white youth, frankly, means something very different than being profiled as a Black youth.
For instance, when Trayvon Martin was murdered, and his killer set free, Black and white people, generally, perceived the incident very differently -- whites, relating to Zimmerman's alleged fear of Black boys, and Blacks worried that every Black boy in a hoodie could now be a symbol of fear, and could be murdered without recourse, again leaving Black parents the task of giving our sons that extra "once-overs" to ensure that their gear won't be too intimidating to the people are afraid of them.
Similar can be said about the incident involving the murder of 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell, a Black man who, in his search for help, was killed by a white officer who perceived him as a criminal rather than a college-educated citizen in need of help.
The simple and most disappointing truth (based on my own experiences) about the race talk in America is the unwillingness of individuals to come to terms with the fact that their lenses aren't the only lenses through-which people experience race; these folk, white and black, ultimately imposing their personal race experiences on people who have had completely different ones.
Case-in-point, this week Justice Clarence Thomas said that America is more race-conscious than it had been when he was being raised, noting that although he
"Rarely did the issue of race come up," Thomas said. "Everybody is [too] sensitive."
Thomas' comments imply that because the issue of race didn't come up for him, that it shouldn't come up for others. But what of the thousands of Blacks for whom race did come up -- where people of his (and my mother's) age, as children, were spat upon and beaten; tortured and lynched, simply because they were black?
But I want my son to feel comfortable discussing race. I want him to be as secure starting conversations with, "As a Black man," as he is hearing his white friends starting conversations with, "As a white woman."
After writing this piece, I recorded my son's response to the same Cheerios commercial. Click here to see it. His response was exactly what I expected. Seeing race ain't necessarily being racist.