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Parenting Color-Aware (The Opposite of Color-Blind)

I’m not color-blind, and I don’t pretend to be “color-blind.” If anything, I’m more “color-aware” since marrying an African-American man nineteen years ago and becoming the mother of a bi-racial son ten years ago. Since then, my “color radar” has been turned on and tuned in.

How else could I explain my reaction to my recent viewing of the David Hockney: 82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life exhibit at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)? Initially, my husband, son, and I slowly walked around the exhibit space, taking in the sheer number of paintings. We commented on the vivid colors, the individuals who were painted multiple times, and the simple set-up of a chair for each subject. My son pointed out that almost all of the portraits were painted and hung vertically; only one was horizontal– the only portrait featuring two individuals. (We guessed it was a painting of two brothers. We opted not to look at the informational hand-out that provided details and information on each person and his/her connection to Mr. Hockney, preferring, instead, to make our own guesses).

But the longer we spent in the exhibit space, the more I noticed the absence of non-white faces. It felt even more shocking to me, knowing that David Hockney painted each of these subjects in his Los Angeles studio.

I don’t know if I would have been as cognizant of this lack of racial diversity when I was a single, young, white woman. But being part of a mixed family all these years has made me pay more attention to race.

My “color radar” is not limited to museum outings.

For instance, the last time our family sat down and watched our Inside Out DVD (the 2015 Pixar film), I couldn’t help thinking that Pixar missed an important opportunity. Riley’s story is not a white girl’s story. Riley could just as easily have been portrayed as a Latina, African-American, or Asian-American eleven-year-old girl moving across the country. She could have been a mixed-race child. And again, I don’t know if I would have noticed this lack of racial diversity in such a popular film if I wasn’t parenting a mixed-race child.

I also find myself seeking out examples of famous individuals whose families resemble ours. My son knows that former Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin has a “white mommy and black daddy” just like he does. He knows that President Obama may be described as our nation’s first African-American President, but he is also the son of a Caucasian mother and African father.

While I was writing this essay, I asked my husband if he had noticed the lack of racial diversity in Mr. Hockney’s portraits. He said it hadn’t occurred to him. His attention was largely captured by the very bright colors Mr. Hockney used, not the skin color of his subjects. My son gave a less-than-flattering review of the exhibit, saying it was “okay,” but never noticed the racial inequities I did.

So maybe my increased racial awareness doesn’t have anything to do with our particular family dynamics, and is instead, another example of my heightened Mommy radar. The way moms have a tendency to always be on the lookout, scoping out potential dangers, the way our senses are always functioning on a higher level.

Is it just me? I’d love to hear from other parents raising  children in mixed families — whether mixed races, languages, religions. Do you notice diversity, or the lack of, differently now that you’re a parent? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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1 comment

  1. John Borak 3 August, 2018 at 14:32 Reply

    Wendy, I read your article with mixed feelings. Part of me celebrated the apparent realization of the Reverend King’s dream that we will judge on the content of character instead of the color of skin; another part of me savors the richness of ethnic and cultural diversity. Another great thought-provoking piece!

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