Word Worth®
                      ©World Magazine of Ideas and the Arts™ — Fall 2017 Volume XVII,  Issue 4

Cover ] Editorials ] [ Columns ] Letters ] Arts ] Insights ] Take A Look! ]

Columns

Saved

I grew up below the Mason-Dixon line. I knew the word “N-----“, and I probably used it playing with friends as a very young child. My parents never did—not once. My father was left with a leg half an inch shorter that the other as a result of polio when he was nine months old. My mother was an orphan. They both knew what it was like to be picked on and bullied and what it was like to overcome hardships not of their own making.

What was different about me from the kids who looked down on N----s and White Trash was that I loved babies. I remember standing on our back porch when my brother was playing with another boy and saying, “I love babies. [Something my second grandson said at the same age.] I wish I were a baby.”  The neighbor boy said, “She's crazy about babies.”

I remember that incident as clearly as anything in my life even though I was about four years old.

I also vividly remember a summer evening a year or so after that when my family was shopping in Rockville, a town slightly larger than the farm town that Gaithersburg was then. When I left the shop, walking ahead of me was a young colored (the polite designation at the time) couple. Looking over the man’s broad shoulder was a baby seeing the world with the wide-eyed wonder of small infants.

My heart froze, and the thought saddened me: “When that baby grows up, he'll be hated just because he’s colored.” This was an epiphany that influenced my life. I remember the hue of the sky and the feel of the air. It was one of the ephemeral evenings unique to that part of the planet known as the Potomac River Valley.

I asked my grandparents and Aunt Ruth for a colored doll. No one ever asked why I wanted it. It just appeared wrapped up as a present on my birthday. That’s what my family was like.

The doll had a little wand attached to its wrist and wore a pink dress. She was adorable, and I named her Cutie.

It was the children’s job in my family to make the holiday decorations for the outside of the house. Several years after I got Cutie, perhaps when I was in the fifth grade, I cut out and painted a cardboard figure of a mother and constructed a manger scene. I had two dolls to use for the infant. One was a little girl doll with long hair. Naturally, she would not have done for an infant.

So I used Cutie, and it never occurred to me that there was anything strange about the choice until a kid at school teased me about it.

Fortunately, no one ever praised or complimented me for wanting or using the African American doll. Had they done so, it would likely have led to the kind of smug sanctimoniousness that cropped up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s when some white people thought they were proving how wonderful they were by superficially accepting people of other races.

In the 1960s and 70s, white people adopted black babies because they wanted to prove what good, unprejudiced people they were. I know of several instances of that, and none went well. Then in the 80s, the pendulum swung the other way and white people were not allowed to adopt black children. In one case a comatose white woman had been raped by a black caretaker resulting in a "black" infant. The woman's mother wanted to adopt her daughter's newborn, but was told that she refused to understand that the baby was black. She was the child's grandmother!

In the 2010s when white people adopt a black baby, it’s because they really want a baby and have love in their hearts for any baby, white, black, or polka-dot. No one should ever adopt a child to prove what a good person they are as Joan Crawford did. No one should get praise or reward for for being unbiased; no one should feel heroic for doing what everyone should be doing in the first place.

I was saved on that magic summer evening walking on a street in Rockville, Maryland. I was saved from the kind of hatred displayed at Trump rallies, from the need to have a victim, from the automatic reaction of hatred based on instant visual judgments. At the age of six, I learned about humanity. It was a Cosmic gift.

 

Comment at Word Worth Magazine

©2017
Website by