Monday, November 23, 2009

Brown People

Recently while looking through a series of family photo albums, I ran across a photograph that I had all but forgotten about. It is a photo of my youngest daughter posed against a palimpsest of black people of varying hues. Her eyes are wide open as if she is surprised, and the biggest smile she could possibly muster is spread across her face. In front of her, her hands are clasped together in utter glee.

When I showed this old photograph to my wife, the two of us almost laughed until crying while remembering that moment and the events that lead up to it.

When my son and daughter were still very young and forming their view of the world, they perceived and spoke of everything around them literally. For instance, they divided their world to the extent of their knowledge into two groups of people—brown people and white people. And when a white classmate asked my daughter why she was black and how she got that way, my daughter promptly corrected her and informed her that she was not black; she was indeed brown.

But that incident sparked a journey of discovery on my daughter’s behalf to somehow learn all she could about brown and white peoples and the differences thereof. She became a keen observer of people. Often either my wife or I would catch her just staring at people, until one day she finally declared that she really could not tell the difference between brown people and white people except for their skin color.

Then one weekend, my wife and I took our children along with us to Tallahassee, Florida, as we went to celebrate Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University’s (FAMU) homecoming. And if you have ever been to Tallahassee, Florida, during FAMU’s homecoming week, you know that the locals pretty much vacate the city, leaving it to the family, friends, and alumni of the predominantly black university.

So, for a period of about a week, we were virtually surrounded by “brown people.” We dined with them and worshiped with them in attending an ecumenical service. We went to an old-school concert with them. We went to pep-rallies and tailgate parties with them. We even managed to catch a step-show, my children's first, the battle of the bands, and finally the game.

And this whole time my children’s eyes, especially my daughter’s, were big as saucers as my grandmother was found of saying. I don’t know if it was all the excitement and festivities; I don’t know if she was surprised by seeing so many “brown people” she did not know in one place. Nevertheless, she soaked it all in.

Then there was that one particular moment that occurred just as we were leaving the stadium. I’m not certain what happened, but as the crowd surged out of the stadium entrance, a bottle neck occurred preventing anyone from moving forward. And I expected the worse. I expected people to begin pushing and shoving and cursing one another, but that did not happened. Instead, the crowd, that huge throng of “brown people” broke into an impromptu rendition of the Negro National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as they swayed back and forth in time to the melody.

As a warm wave of emotion, well-bring, and community spread through the crowd, my daughter must have gotten caught up in the fervor of the moment because she suddenly threw her arms up in absolute delight and exhilaration, brought them down and in clasping them in front of herself exclaimed, “I JUST LOVE BROWN PEOPLE! I LOVE BEING A BROWN PERSON!” Those within earshot of her proclamation laughed at her temerity. It was at that moment that my wife snapped the picture.

Since then my daughter has learned a little more about the world. Since then the realities of race have become a bit clearer and a bit more complicated to her. Since then she has witnessed “brown people” at our very best as well as at our very worst. She often admits in frustration and utter disbelief that she cannot understand for the life of her why we act the way we do sometimes. But in the same instance, I watched her swell with pride on election night in 2008.

She had gone along with us as we canvassed neighborhoods and attended rallies and other campaign functions. She felt as if she was a part of and had helped contribute to the moment she was witnessing.

After her mother and I had finished laughing and reminiscing, we called her in, showed her the photograph and asked if she still remembered that moment. She just smiled, chuckled a little, and nodded her head yes. So, I went a step further. I asked her that in knowing all she knew about “brown people” now, did she still love them? Did she still love being a “brown person.”

She fingered the photograph for a moment, and she ran her finger across the backdrop of “brown people,” and she told me unequivocally, “Yes, I still do. And perhaps now more than ever. I love ‘brown people,’ and I really love being a ‘brown person.’”

It was really a moment for all of us which my son promptly ruined by only half playfully spouting some nonsensical stream of black power rhetoric in the background. I know that he loves "brown people" too. He just expresses it differently.

And by all means, love yourself and be a blessing to somebody today!


Anonymous said...

This was very cute. I remember my own experience with this when my youngest argued her grandfather down that she wasn't black. She was brown. It was then that she had only begun to realize racial differences.

Our friends encompass a variety of peoples but my children had never truly been around nothing but "brown people". SO when they were they took had a look of amazement of being surrounded but only "brown people". Then as they grew to understand geography they began to realize the origin of most "brown people". Along with that came the understanding of slavery and injustice.

I do raise them to not see color but the individual. But, appreciation of who we are and where we come from is part of the growing process and builds confidence. Understanding that also builds character and respect for who other people are and where they come from.

uglyblackjohn said...

Most days we're just people - only when we are at our best (or at our worst) are we even thought of as Brown (Black) people.

md20737 said...

Such a wonderful post very encouraging and inspiring.. Thanks Max

rhythm said...

a great way to begin my day. i love brown people, and i love being brown. thanks, max (one of my favorite brown writers).

Anna Renee said...

What a wonderful post! Like your wise daughter, I, myself like being a "brown" person too! If only all the brown people would see it as your daughter sees it!

River Glorious said...

Thank you for sharing that. :)


Citizen Ojo said...

As always you share a gem.

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