My son is a little bit racist.
I’m afraid it’s totally my fault, having shielded him from, for lack of a more PC term, White People, for the better part of his 5 years. You see, we live in Los Angeles (I know, this is an OC publication, but I can’t afford the mortgage in Tustin), and so we see lots and lots and lots of different kinds of people: Black people, Hispanic people, Asian people and, of course, Jewish people. Most of them swarthy and dark-haired and most smiling at Zev with twinkles in their brown, brown eyes.
The stereotype of people from LA is blonde, blue-eyed, young and wealthy. But you forget that those are the adults. More specifically, that those are the svelte 20-something women. You also forget that the stereotype isn’t really true.
Granted, there actual Scandinavian types in the mix here, but I guess there aren’t enough of them because – oh man am I embarrassed to say this – my son can’t tell them apart.
This winter, Zev met his (non-Jewish) cousin Lewy, and the towhead’s mug must have made an impression on him, because now every pale, blonde boy Zev meets is instantly dubbed “Lewy.”
The real Lewy lives in a part of upstate New York where there’s a snow-topped church on nearly every corner, in other words, another planet. And lately, we’ve had a rash of visitors from such exotic locales as the Pacific Northwest, places known more for their microbrews than their pickled herring.
These far-off lands are filled with people who must take Vitamin D supplements to make up for the fact that there isn’t enough sunlight penetrating their fair, fair skin. It’s a haven for people who – as one of my friends from the region put it – teach their kids alternative rock instead of religion. A place where kids only play with wood toys, where Disney paraphernalia is verboten and where preschool rosters look like they were cribbed from a Laguna Woods’ phone book: Henry, Tallulah, Max, Stella, and, of course, Lew.
While there are blonde Jews – some of Zev’s best friends are blonde (Wow. Did I just type that?), I can forgive Zev for thinking that there is a stark visual similarity between every one of the porcelain dolls who have visited lately. These children have all been flawless. Boys with thick, straight hair, big blue eyes and smiles that could make you Top-Siders.
But to not be able to distinguish between them? At first it was funny. Then it got embarrassing:
Henry, the 3 year-old son of friends ours visiting from Seattle, was “Lewy.” Desmond was “Lewy.” Ian was “Lewy.” Even Jackson, the 8 year-old hockey-player with hair that would have made 1970s David Bowie weep, was “Lewy.”
Jackson is three feet taller than Lewy! How could he possibly be confused with Lewy?
“I don’t know, Eema,” Zev says matter-of-factly. “He just looks like Lewy.”
I never thought I would raise a racist. I always thought I was instilling an attitude of respect and appreciation for other people. When we’ve discussed religion, I’ve explained to Zev that there are many different ways of talking to God, and that God hears all of them. He has friends with two mommies. He counts Farsi, Spanish, Portuguese and Hebrew-speakers among his closest friends. But clearly, there is a group I have forgotten to incorporate in my “We-Are-the World” message of love. And I guess I’m going to have to do something about it.
I have this vision that eight years from now, I will take a 13-year-old Zev to Africa or South America to work with an aid organization as the “mitzvah” part of his Bar Mitzvah. My dream is to expand his horizons and instill in him a love of tzedakah and an understanding of other cultures.
Now, I think, instead, I’ll take him to a co-op in Portland.