“I don’t see color.”
I’ve heard this a fair bit, as I’m sure many of you have. I understand each word, and I guess I understand why people say it. But I don’t understand why people think it’s a good thing to say. Why would you need to remove such a clear characteristic in order to treat someone as an equal or equally well?
The recent movement and protests in the wake of the George Floyd death has created something of a groundswell of anecdotes of people’s own experiences in racially charged situations. What follows is my own account of a personal experience that had the makings of a situation fraught with tension and fear. By Hollywood — and, sadly modern-day — standards, there should have been threats made, stones thrown, fires lit and obscenities hurled.
But there was none of that.
In the early- to mid-1970s, my younger sister and I attended an all-black daycare in Mobile, Alabama. We were the first and only white kids to attend Taylor’s Daycare, a small, brick single-story establishment with a large dirt lot next door and a playground.
The owner, Ms. Taylor, ran a tight ship. She and her employees read stories, taught lessons, settled disputes between children and tended to scrapes and bruises. She cooked hot breakfasts and lunches, often consisting of grits, sausage, and pinto beans, among other Southern food.
Ms. Taylor taught me the difference between Pinesol and Lysol.
She would also sit you in her lap and comfort you when you needed it. She gave hugs.
And she could set you straight if it was required. Although I never saw her do it, she spoke of the bushes around the daycare being good for growing switches, and that she had no issue with harvesting one and putting it to use.
The threat alone was enough to get me to fly right. And it kept me away from those bushes.
At Christmas, Ms. Taylor and her staff organized a pageant for the kids and their families. We learned “Silent Night, Holy Night.” The children at the daycare acted out the Nativity Scene. There were Three Wise Men, Joseph, Mary and Jesus. I, apparently lacking any discernible talent, was relegated to stand somewhere off stage. There was also a group of angels, including one white girl, my little sister
My mother, along with my two older sisters, attended the performance with the rest of the daycare families.
I don’t recall much of what happened during my time at Taylor’s Daycare. I do, though, recall a lot of what didn’t happen.
My sister and I never had to eat alone. We were never denied lunch, or had to drink from a certain water fountain or use a special bathroom. When we took naps, we slept on cots in the same room as everyone else. Was I picked on? Yes, but no more so than is typical for young children.
I also didn’t learn about slavery, Jim Crowe and the Civil Rights Movement.
When my sister and I left Taylor’s Daycare — I believe I had aged out — I specifically remember it being a happy occasion. I vividly recall Ms. Taylor holding my little sister, smiling as big as she could and saying, “You were our first white angel.” And she squeezed her tight.
It’s not that Ms. Taylor didn’t see the differences; it’s that they didn’t matter to her.
That moment with Ms. Taylor and my time at her daycare was the seed that grew into how I have responded to people of all races and differences throughout my youth and and adulthood. I value that experience.