Thursday 22 November 2012

Thought Picnic: Gosh! I have a black face

Is it …?
Maybe there isn’t much to read into this but I do remember about 15 years ago planning to visit a young family and I found myself asking whether their two boys have ever seen or met anyone of my race.
I just had the feeling that they having lived in a somewhat expatriate community in the United States and then moving back to Suffolk they might not have been exposed. Those silly assumptions fed my imagination with pictures of two kids under 5 hiding behind daddy’s legs and stealthily coming round to poke me to see if I will react before scurrying back to the protection of daddy.
My makeup is permanent
That is what I think prepared me for an episode yesterday at Upminster station where I was waiting to board a train into London. The waiting room has a heater on timer so I always go in there to get some warmth considering it was raining cats and dogs with blustering wind to boot.
There, I saw a man probably in his late twenties and his son, maybe not even 3 years old yet, sat in his buggy. I switched on the heater and as I stood by taking in the warmth, I looked at the boy and this conversation between them ensued.
Son: Look, he’s got a black face.
Father: He’s a man.
The appropriateness of that conversation can be left to conjecture as I smiled pretending not to be shocked by it all.
In 2012?
The boy had just been picked up from spending a week’s holiday with his grandparents and Upminster for all intents and purposes is not entirely out in the sticks and completely beyond civilisation. If the boy lived anywhere in London and from whatever baggage they had, they were not travelling far; one can only wonder how and why the boy could not have noticed and realised that black faces are not all that rare.
Kids have a way of learning fast and learning well from their environments. I would hate to think that influences around the boy had negatively coloured his quite impressionable young mind. It is not like we are in the 1960s when the sight of a person of colour was so much a curiosity as to be cause for amusement, surprise and fear.
All the knowledge the father could impart to the child was that I am a man. It made me wonder if I had a red face or a green face, dare I say a yellow face or a blue face and by the time I have a grey face, I might well be a weather vane.
If anything, for the sake of the well-being of that child, they all need to get out a bit more and if they have been saying silly things, that child will be growing up in a society that will be radically different from what he has been hearing or been fed and maybe next time, I will roll up my sleeves and pull up the leg of my trousers just to show that I not only have a black face and it is not a paint job either.


Anengiyefa said...

Hello Akin, it may well be that the father opted to wait until he was alone with the child, before imparting to the child the knowledge that you seem to think he ought to have imparted. Also, it is quite feasible that a pre-school age white child, living in a sheltered white household, surrounded by white people and in a predominantly white area, could see a black face at close quarters as something of a novelty. The "he's a man" might just have been the father's attempt to point out what was relevant, ie, that the colour of the man's face wasn't the relevant thing.  

Akin Akintayo said...

Thanks Anengiyefa for your comment.

Your perspective might well be true but I tried to address the issue of exposure, remoteness and awareness in my blog.

However, if living so close to London a pre-school aged child finds a black face a novelty, my concerns are quite valid too.


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