A four-year-old’s guide to race relations. I grew up in a mostly white, mostly Jewish suburb outside Washington, D.C. The only black person I knew was our maid, Lottie, who came weekly to
clean our house. One day I informed my mother, “Lottie is black because she doesn’t wash.” My mother was really shocked and burst out laughing when I said that. What do you expect for a four-year old? She corrected me, “Oh no, that is not right. People are born with different color skin, just like you have brown, curly hair and your friend Essie has red straight locks. Essie has freckles and you don’t.”
Now nobody in our family smoked, but Lottie was a heavy smoker. Although my family did not allow anyone to smoke in our home because they disliked it and especially because I had asthma, you could smell the residue of smoke on Lottie’s clothing, and it was in her hair and breath. I am sure she took several smoke breaks outside during her work day. So, I interpreted that smell as lack of cleanliness. Putting two and two together, Lottie’s unusual smell and her different skin tone made perfect sense to a preschooler. May we not approach people in the same simplistic and errant manner now that we are grown-ups.