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Is anybody really colorblind?
On our class trip to Newport, OR, my class stopped in a Macy’s to buy something or other. We were going gaga over the clothes and things – our rural town has no shopping place – looking like a bunch of country bumpkins, which we were, and we were not ashamed of it.
“Look at this awesome hat!” Morgan, a friend of mine, exclaimed, displaying a fedora. “It’s awesome!”
“You’d spend thirty bucks on a hat?” Travis exclaimed, suspicious. “Nobody wears those kinds of hats.”
“He does!” Morgan exclaimed, pointing to a poster of a man in a huge fancy car with the hat and lots of bling on. “He’s got style!”
“Uh, Morgan…” Tony, my pal, began.
“He’s black,” Travis finished.
“Oh.” Morgan sighed, putting the hat back. “Oh well. I forgot I left my wallet on the bus anyway.”
“I can’t believe how racist we are!” Travis exclaimed. “I just blurted that out like that.”
I said nothing, but I was ashamed. I had thought exactly the same thing when I saw the poster. I’d thought, Look at that cool black dude in the fancy car. For me it was just a normal part of life to note the color of things. Was that bad? Living in a society of nearly all whites – our school had a few Mexicans and a few Indians – excuse me, Native Americans – but that’s about as colorful as it got. Everybody else was white. It was big for us to see a person of darker complexion, even if it was just on a poster. Was I racist?
It didn’t stop there. As we ran amuck in the store like fools who’d never been in a fashionable clothing store, we ran about loudly exclaiming foolish things that could hurt people’s feelings.
“Look!” Tyler yelled, pointing to a ‘Remember, Father’s day is coming up!’ poster of a kid and his dad. “Why’s a black guy holding a white baby?”
“Maybe he adopted,” I said, feeling the eyes of curious customers on us.
“Look at this geek,” Tony said, pointing to a poster of a man and his kid. “He makes whites like us look like nerds.”
A few girls ran and flopped on the beds like little animals getting ready for hibernation. An employee glanced at the hoard of kids running through the store. “Wow,” she commented. “It’s like you guys arrived on a bus or something!”
“Uh, yeah, we did,” Tony and I explained, embarrassedly. “We’re… on a class trip.”
“Oh, that’s nice! Where to?”
“We just got back from Newport. On the coast, you know.” I said.
“We went on a boat, we saw the light house, the tide pools we went to the Hatfield Marine Science Center, um…” Tony paused, considering. “A lot of places.” I noticed he left out that he’d been locked in the bus for three hours while everyone was in Burger King because they forgot him, but that’s a tale for another time. “It was fun.”
“Well, good.” The employee lady smiled, just as Travis went up to ask his dad, a chaperone, to buy him a polo shirt.
“Polo shirts are expensive,” his dad said.
“Polo shirts are gay,” Tyler scoffed, unaware that he was wearing one.
“What did you do to your eye?” some cute girl – not from our school – asked Quinton, Tyler’s cousin.
“I got decked by a six-foot Mexican.” Quinton declared. (His brother punched him.) “Didn’t know they came that big, didja?”
“Huh,” she said, moving away. Quinton was the most racist kid in our class. He’s also the biggest storyteller. He’s also the biggest around the waist.
Ashly and Morgan, over by the perfume counter, gasped as they knocked over an expensive bottle of perfume. The glass lay shattered on the floor.
“Run!” Ashly whisper/screamed, and the two dashed off, leaving the pile of glass right there on the floor. Tony and I stared.
“Did you do this?!” an employee exclaimed, seeing it now.
“No! No!” Tony and I exclaimed.
“It was me,” Morgan said, stepping forward. She didn’t care if Tony got in trouble, but she wouldn’t let me get in trouble. That’s the kind of good friend she is. “I –”
“It fell over as she walked by.” A stout woman declared, winking at us three. “I saw it. She was just going over to find a garbage can, and these two were here to make sure nobody stepped on it. You really should keep those things away from the edge.”
“Oh. I apologize,” the employee said, calling for someone to clean up. We scrambled away.
“Very nice, Morgy,” Tony hissed. “Proved you weren’t yellow after all.”
“He means cowardly, not oriental,” I said quickly. It was unbelievable how many racist things we were saying today! I couldn’t believe we hadn’t been kicked out of the store yet for all the offensive things my class was saying.
“Hey,” the stout woman said, coming up behind us. “Where’s that brown-haired girl that was with you? Tell her she doesn’t need to hide anymore.”
“Oh, Ashly. Yeah, I’ll go find her. Thank you.” Morgan took off.
I had brown hair too. Hmm. Maybe seeing the color of people’s skin isn’t racist. At least, no more racist than saying that Ashly had brown hair, or that Morgan had blond hair. At least, we weren’t raised to hiss at blacks – excuse me, African Americans – as they walked by. We don’t scoff at Mexicans. Just because we notice the color of their skin doesn’t mean we’re bad, I guess. It’s just an observation in my mind.
“You know, we were really bad in there,” Morgan commented as we walked to the bus. (We didn’t want to cause any more trouble, so we figured out-of-sight, out-of-mind.) “I mean, the broken perfume, those girls on the beds…”
“Don’t forget Quinton trying to pick up that girl.”
“And the hat! If I had my money, I’d totally buy it. I don’t care if it’s a black-person hat.”
“We said some really racist things in there,” I commented.
“Yeah, but we’re not racist. We’re just…” she paused. “Too used to white kids. Excuse me, Caucasians.”
“Well, I think it doesn’t matter, so long as we don’t make fun of people. I mean, saying ‘Where’s that girl with the brown hair?’ is just the same as saying ‘Hey where’s that black dude?’ because it just helps us pick people out in a crowd. It’s just like saying the sky is blue.” I paused. “At least, that’s how I feel.”
“Yeah, me too. Besides, it’s not like anybody heard us.”
I could beg to differ, but I decided not to.
After all, nobody’s completely colorblind.