In order of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’d like to tell a story on my son, Patrick Corley.
When Patrick was a child, I got licensed as a foster parent. On one occasion, we had a baby girl placed with us. I invited the child’s CASA worker to see her at the house. She had not planned to come, but I wanted her to know that we were providing good care for her client.
When I opened the door, I had the baby in my arms. My son stood beside me. We greeted the woman, and asked if she wanted to come into the house.
The woman blurted out, “You’re white!”
Before I could say anything, she gasped in dismay, “And this baby is BLACK!”
I was speechless.
But my son had an immediate response: “No, no, she’s not!” he corrected the woman. “She’s the exact color of a Hershey bar. I checked! And we’re not white, either. We’re more of a beige.” He then gestured, “Come in! Come in!” He led the woman into the living room, having settled, in his mind, the question of colors.
On another occasion, I took my son shopping for t-shirts. Seeing his selection, I gently suggested that he might want to keep looking. “Pink is a girl color,” I told my four-year-old. He reached out and patted my hand. “No, no, Mom,” he said. “Colors do not have genders.”
I accept that people fit into cultures, “races”, genders, gender-orientations, nationalities, religions, and statuses. But I reject the notion that we can paint large groups of people with the broad brush of judgment based upon such designations. I once interviewed for a job at a New Orleans law firm. I didn’t expect to get the job; I knew within five minutes of my arrival that I couldn’t make the grade in the cut-throat atmosphere. But I slogged through the entire process, down to the lowliest associate on the hiring committee in the closet which served as his office.
He looked at my resume and remarked, “I see you made law review, we like to hire people from law reviews.” I shook my head. “Sir, you mistake what I’ve done for who I am, ” I replied. “I made law review because I’m good; I’m not good because I made law review.”
I clattered out of his office in borrowed grey pumps and a cheap suit, and never looked back. I spent the next forty years trying to understand the judgmental gene in human beings. I’m still trying. It’s taken me a long time to be able to discern how I want to choose my own associates. But I’m getting closer to having a good set of criteria by which to separate the wheat from the chaff, and skin color has nothing to do with the distinction.