I grew up below the Mason-Dixon line. I
knew the word “N-----“, and I probably used it playing with friends as a
very young child. My parents never did—not once. My father was left with
a leg half an inch shorter that the other as a result of polio when he
was nine months old. My mother was an orphan. They both knew what it was
like to be picked on and bullied and what it was like to overcome hardships not of
their own making.
What was different about me from the kids
who looked down on N----s and White Trash was that I loved babies. I
remember standing on our back porch when my brother was playing with
another boy and saying, “I love babies.
[Something my second grandson said at the same age.]
I wish I were a baby.” The neighbor
boy said, “She's crazy about babies.”
I remember that incident as clearly as
anything in my life even though I was about four years old.
remember a summer
evening a year or so after that when my family was shopping in
Rockville, a town slightly larger than the farm town that Gaithersburg
When I left the shop, walking ahead of me was a young colored
(the polite designation at the time) couple. Looking over the man’s
broad shoulder was a baby seeing the world with the wide-eyed wonder of small infants.
My heart froze, and the thought saddened
me: “When that baby grows up, he'll be hated just because he’s colored.”
This was an epiphany that influenced my
remember the hue of the sky and the feel of the air. It was one of the ephemeral
to that part of the planet known as the Potomac River Valley.
I asked my grandparents and Aunt Ruth
for a colored doll. No one ever asked why I wanted it. It just appeared
wrapped up as a present on my birthday. That’s what my family was like.
The doll had a little wand attached to
its wrist and wore a pink dress. She was adorable, and I named her
It was the children’s job in my family to
make the holiday decorations for the outside of the house. Several years
after I got Cutie, perhaps when I was in the fifth grade, I cut out and painted a
cardboard figure of a mother and constructed a manger scene. I had two
dolls to use for the infant. One was a little girl doll with long hair.
Naturally, she would not have done for an infant.
So I used Cutie, and it never occurred to
me that there was anything strange about the choice until a kid at
school teased me about it.
Fortunately, no one ever praised or
complimented me for wanting or using the African American doll. Had they
done so, it would likely have led to the kind of smug sanctimoniousness
that cropped up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s when some white people thought
they were proving how wonderful they were by superficially
people of other races.
In the 1960s and 70s, white people
adopted black babies because they wanted to prove what good, unprejudiced
people they were. I know of several instances of that, and none went
well. Then in the 80s, the pendulum swung the other way and white people
were not allowed to adopt black children. In one case a comatose white
woman had been raped by a black caretaker resulting in a "black"
The woman's mother wanted to adopt her daughter's newborn, but was told
that she refused to understand that the baby was black.
the child's grandmother!
In the 2010s when white people adopt a black baby, it’s because
they really want a baby and have love in their hearts for any baby,
white, black, or polka-dot. No one should ever adopt a child to prove
what a good person they are as Joan Crawford did. No one should get
praise or reward for for being unbiased; no one should feel heroic for doing what everyone should be doing in the first
I was saved on
that magic summer evening walking on a street in Rockville,
Maryland. I was saved from the kind of hatred displayed at Trump
rallies, from the need to have a victim, from the automatic reaction of
hatred based on instant visual judgments. At the age of six, I learned about humanity. It was a Cosmic
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