15 November 2009

children see better

Today, Lakay and I had the privilege of learning a valuable lesson about social and racial differences through the eyes of our little one.

Lakay and the little one are into these Dutch Songs on Sinterklaas lately. While listening through the lyrics of one song, Lakay noted some words that may come across as offensive to Africans if used on them today. The term Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), for instance, refers to the African servant of Sinterklaas who has been known to have assisted him in distributing gifts to children on the 6th of December each year. Lakay noted the omission of the term "Zwarte" in toys sold in the market. He then inferred that it may be because of some political and social implications that put the Africans in an inferior place. In fact, perhaps in an effort to undo any unjust consequence wrought by the term Zwarte Piet, Piet the servant is now added with the suffix -je, as in "Pietje," which is the Belgian language's own way of adding a tone of endearment to a name.

Because of this, Lakay gently prodded the little one not to use Zwarte Piet, and to simply say "Piet" instead.

As expected, the little one asked why. I then said that it might hurt the feelings of his classmates in class who are "black." He looked at me with a blank face, not seeming to know who I am referring to. I then asked him the names of his classmates who are black. After a thoughtful silence, he said, "No one."

At that point I remembered a friend of ours who also noticed that their son, about the same age with my little one, didn't really notice anything different between him and his classmates (may they be Caucasian, Asian or African).

Such profound innocence. I found the wisdom of this captured in Lakay's words,
"Children look at each other in the eyes, and not through the color of their skin."

One then wonders at what point in their lives as children does discrimination begin. Could it be from the ramblings of an unthinking parent?

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