A number of years ago, my 6-year-old daughter Susan welcomed me home from work with great excitement. “Daddy, Daddy,” she said, “Mommy took me to the doctor today, and I met another girl in the waiting room who was just like me!”
“That’s really nice, Honey,” I said. “How was she like you?”
“Oh, her name was Susan, just like me. And she liked the same dolls as me, and we both love the same books. We watch the same TV shows, too. Daddy, she was just like me!”
This went on for several minutes – until my wife got me aside in the kitchen. “You should know that the other Susan was a little Black girl.” Wow!
Apparently difference in skin color was not a major factor in my daughter’s assessment that the other girl “was just like me.” “From the mouths of babes,” I said to my wife.
My daughter grew up to be a fine young woman. She graduated from college and became an emergency room nurse. She volunteered in an EMS unit, and also qualified as a flight nurse.
Once we came across a terrible automobile accident minutes after it happened. With the help of a few Good Samaritans, she saved the life of a man who surely would have died without her help.
Tragically, my daughter contracted a rare disease called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), and passed away in 2003 at the age of 37. Not a day passes when I don’t think of her. Or about that story of the Two Susans.
The list of things my 6-year-old daughter recognized as important or defining characteristics in others did not include skin color. Perhaps this is true of all children. A shared name, a love for the same dolls, books and TV shows – those were far more important.
It was a great lesson for me. The color of your skin means little to me. Your character, your honesty and integrity, your sense of humor are far more important. So are your views about our common obligations as children of God, and how each of us applies our faith in our families, our professions, and our everyday lives. The color of your skin ranks somewhere below whether you’re left- or right-handed, and what baseball team you root for.
I’m reminded of the song, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” in Rogers and Hammerstein’s great musical, “South Pacific.” People aren’t born with prejudices – they learn them from others.
One of the biggest problems underlying all the tension and violence today is what many call “identity politics.” If you belong to this or that group, you’re automatically evil; if you belong to that or this group, you’re automatically good. This saves adherents the trouble of looking at each human being as a unique entity, created by God. It also absolves them of their own sins (in their eyes, of course); those other people, they’re the real sinners, not me.
As a dear friend said to me after hearing my daughter’s story, “Who would think a little girl would be wiser than a bunch of grownups (or people dressed to look like grownups)?”