His Name Is Tommy White

With the fiftieth anniversary of The March On Washington in all the news, I was brought back to my childhood and my first experience with racism. My parents were basically good people, but they were influenced by the times. I was just eight years old and it was the first week of school in St. Paul, Minnesota where I was born. I lived in a German neighborhood; my father had grown up in the house he brought my mother to live in before I was born. I enjoyed growing up there and had lots of friends. One day I came home from school and proudly announced to my mother that I had a new friend, a boy my age. What happened next would stay with me for the rest of my life.  She leaned down and asked me what his color was. Her question startled and puzzled me, because I could not see why that was important. I thought for a minute, then answered her with the truth “I don’t know.” She seemed annoyed by my answer. “What do you mean you don’t know?” But the truth was I honestly couldn’t remember, because it wasn’t important to me. What was important was how nice he was and how much fun we had playing together at recess. My mother’s question disturbed me, although I didn’t show it. She had created a feeling of separation between us, a feeling that we were different and that difference wasn’t good although it was never stated. “What’s his name,” she asked and I was happy that I knew the answer, “His name is Tommy White,” I said. Then I asked if I could invite him over to play; she didn’t say no, but I knew it made her uncomfortable.  I never forgot our little interaction because the ideals and moral principles that I was taught didn’t fit with this picture. Racism is taught, children don’t judge others by the color of their skin, adults do, and children imitate their parents. I always believed in equality and fairness to all and that was innate in me. When I look back at that little girl, I’m very proud of her for knowing that judging someone for such a superficial reason was wrong. I didn’t realize how amazing that was then, but my ability to keep what I thought was the truth close to my heart in spite of what others thought around me, would turn out to be a talent that would separate me from ideas and a collective consciousness that would only have limited me.