It’s amazing how the environment a child grows up in can effect their views on the world and how they interact with people around them.
As a child we’re not born with hate, racism, homophobia, prejudice, we only come to know such things through the environment that surrounds us and the choices we make as a result of it. I think one the biggest struggles a parent has to face is how discerning they are with what views they impart on their children. The one thing I miss about being young is the fact that nothing had names. Everything we would encounter was a new discovery.
Let me share a story…
Tales of an ill-spent youth: The day I learnt we’re not all the same
I was in grade 1 and one afternoon I was playing on the street with a boy called Josh. He was rather impressed with my collection of Star Wars figurines that I would often carry around in a little green suitcase. They were my prize and joy. On the odd occasion, I would even let Josh play with them. Expect my favourites. No-one touched my Yoda.
As the story goes Josh had to go home and after he had left I remember walking into my lounge room and my mother turned to me and asked,
“Who’s that black kid you were playing with?”
Confused at my mothers question, I replied, “I wasn’t playing with a black kid.”
My mother wore a questioning look upon her face, “Yes you were.”
“No I wasn’t!”
She then proceeded to say my name in that tone as if I had done something wrong.
“But I haven’t.’ I quickly say.
“Don’t fuck’n lie to me.” She seemed to be getting frustrated, now I was accused of lying and I had no idea why.
“But mum,” I pleaded, “I wasn’t playing with a black kid, I was playing with Josh.”
She took a sip of coffee from her mug shaking her head, “Yes, that’s who I’m talking about.”
“No, you asked who the black kid I was playing with.” I replied defiantly, thinking this was one of those times when I had proved my mother wrong, “I was playing with Josh.”
“For god’s sake.” My mother let out a moan of annoyance, “That’s who I’m bloody talking about.”
“But Josh isn’t black.” I said still confused as to why my mother was insisting that my friend was black.
“He’s an Abo isn’t he?”
Abo? I had previously overheard the word during adult conversations before, but never knew what it meant. “What do you mean?”
My mother shook her head once more annoyed, “Josh is an abo, that makes him black.”
Something didn’t seem quite right, how could my friend be black, I not know?
“No he’s not!”
“I’m not gonna argue with you!” A long frustrated sigh escaped my mother’s lips. She turned back to watching the TV, and I was left feeling confused more then ever.
Josh lived about two blocks away, needing to get to the bottom of things, I decided I had to go visit him. I ran straight to his house as I had to be back home before it go dark. Soon as I got there I knocked loudly on the door still trying to catch my breath.
To my surprise the door opened to reveal a big burly man with a grey beard. I remember being quite surprised at first. I stared at him for a moment, something was different. His skin was quite a bit darker. Especially compared to mine. If you asked me, I would have said mine was a little pinkish.
“Is Josh here?” I asked nervously. His dark brown eyes looked me up and down. I watched as he proceed to to take a drink from his stubbie of beer and then shouted over his shoulder.
“Josh, there’s white boy here to see you.”
White boy? I thought puzzled. Josh appeared from behind the man standing at the front door with a curious look upon his face.
“Hi.” He said smiling, “Whatcha doin’ here?”
I stared at Josh, then moved my attention to the man, and then back at Josh, for a brief moment I glanced down at my own hands inspecting the skin colour, and then back at Josh.
“You are black!” The words just came out of my lips. I was in complete shock. To my surprise my mother was right. I suddenly found myself frozen to the spot not knowing what to do. The man (of who’m Josh would later inform me was his dad) shook his head with a big grin upon his face.
“Josh I’m leaving this to you.” He said chuckling to himself and walked back inside.
That was the day I discovered that some people come from different cultural backgrounds and I just hadn’t really noticed it before. It was also the day I learnt that “Abo” was an inappropriate word to call an Aboriginal. Looking back now, it was also the day that I realised just because an adult says a word, it doesn’t always mean it’s right to use.
A year later I would ask Josh if that was his dad on the newly released two dollar coins. I was rather disappointed when he told me it wasn’t.
So remember children are like sponges. The words you say today might be the very words they embarrass you with tomorrow.
Rehab For The Fabulous: The rants of a somewhat fictional character.