My husband has polka dot skin. At least that’s what my daughter says. The other day, the two were staring out the balcony of our hotel at the colored traffic and she pointed out there was a brown man in the flow. “Daddy, there’s a brown man.”
If any adult in their right mind said that, they would be chastised. The difference is her statement was innocent. There was no discrimination or stereotypical undertone. In fact, she knows nothing of the stereotypes that the tainted see with skin color.
We asked her if the man was the same color as Mommy. She said “no”, even though I am a light brown. We asked her if he was the same color as Grandpa and she said, “yes.” My husband asked her what color he is. She said, “You are polka dot, Daddy. You have dots all over you.”
My husband has several moles, so this is a straight-up observation. There was no black, white, brown or yellow. He simply has polka dot skin and he is pink. At least that’s what he looks like to her. Maybe he forgot the sunscreen. Maybe there’s a little burn, but she has the ability to see the in-between. There is more to the spectrum, than just a few classifications and it’s refreshing.
This led me to inspect her love for the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. She sees he starts off as unkind and ferocious. She sees he becomes kind and unwinds to become a prince. She never sees him as looking different. To her, he just goes from mean to thoughtful. There is no color. There is no transformation from hideous to beautiful.
I thought of a story I was told as a child by my grandfather (please forgive my imperfect memory. I was young when the story was told and I am old when I am telling it). He explained that there were several men covered in mud who entered the Ganges River in groups. The first group stepped in the river, shed the mud and walked out white. The second group stepped in the river, shed the mud and walked out yellow. The water had changed color from the mud and affected their skin color. The third group stepped in the river, shed the mud and walked out brown (I’m sure you see where I’m going with this). Finally, the last group stepped in the river, shed the mud and walked out black. It’s clearly a story of class distinction disguised as a simple, dirty-to-clean story. My grandfather is brown, so I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his intention.
Looking at all of the characters in Disney World, I realized that they are all unique and somewhat insane. Most of us never even noticed. We all looked at them without judgment or ridicule in our youth. Our kids are following in our footsteps. Mickey is a mouse with a gigantic head, ears and red shoes. Donald is a duck who forgot his pants and sounds funny. Goofy’s tongue is too long and he has two left feet. We share the same glee and bewilderment when we first laid eyes on them, as our kids do, even though they are different. Just as my daughter noticed the brown man without any judgment, we all do the same with the Disney characters.
When, as adults, did we flip a switch and the stereotypes become second nature? Is it because of life traveled and a high ratio of similar experiences with any one color, gender or difference or are we easily influenced by past generations? When did we stop appreciating the differences in people and only focus on the similarities? When did color introduce so much noise?