Published in The Providence Journal, August 3, 2020
“What do you think about before you go to sleep?” I asked Kinsley, my almost 5-year-old granddaughter. She looked at me, perplexed.
“I just go to sleep,” she said, while hugging her new doll closely.
Beautiful, unblemished, carefree and innocent. Oh, to be almost five again.
“What is your baby’s name?” I asked.
“Lilly. She has dark skin. Like my Dad.”
Lilly was indeed dark-skinned, with skin almost as dark as her father’s. His tone originated in Nigeria, a few generations ago. Kinsley was gifted with a combination of that luxurious mahogany mixed with the Italian, olive-colored skin of her mom.
“My Dad’s dark, like a bear,” said Kinsley.
“A black bear?” I asked.
“Yup. And I’m a brown bear,” she said, a mischievous grin suddenly appearing.
“And I’m a polar bear!” I replied, and chased her around the yard in my snow-white skin until I got tired. Polar bears do not thrive in the hot July sun, after all. Later, I thought of the significance of our conversation, and our game. It evolved as naturally as humanity has, slowly. I imagine humanity will be one basic color soon enough, hopefully as it happens people will forget their biases and accept the inevitable.
I can’t help but wonder though, what we will fight about then. It is hard for me to imagine human beings living in peace and tranquility. Boundaries will always be a source of contention; cultural differences will not be washed away with the melding of skin tone, political ideologies will likely remain at polar opposites. There will be police and thieves, oppressors and oppressed, rich and poor, the lucky and the cursed.
Will people still be protesting in the streets when the reason coloring the current outrage has been integrated by time? With no visible difference between us will we be able to appreciate what lies beneath our appearance and learn to accept that we are far more alike than different? Without the excuse of race-based police brutality will we figure out that it is the criminal behavior that all of us, except for the criminals, are against, and not appearances?
Will we have to wait until everybody looks the same to differentiate between that which is worthy of protest and that which is a necessary component of maintaining civilized behavior that is as flawed as the human condition itself?
I can only imagine what the future will bring. I can only hope that the experience that my almost 5-year-old granddaughter creates as she grows into adulthood is unblemished. Her palate of thought and emotion is clean for now, and I will do everything in my power to keep it that way.
But my power is limited. A bear can only do so much in a world full of lions and tigers. Millions of thoughts and ideas will be invading that innocent little space between her ears, and I have no idea how to teach her how to know the difference between the ones that matter, and the ones that do not.
“Still tired, Papa?” she asked.
With a mighty roar, I rose from my lawn chair and the game was afoot. We’re just bears, after all.