Five-year-old Jax Rosebush of Lexington, Kentucky, had one request when his mother told him it was time for a haircut: He wanted his spikey blonde hair to be shaved, just like his friend Reddy. As he explained to his mom Lydia, Jax wanted to go to school on Monday with matching hair so that his teacher wouldn’t be able to tell the boys apart.
The little boy’s innocent prank touched his mother’s heart. And in the days and weeks that have followed, it’s touched the hearts of strangers all over the Internet, too.
You see, Jax is white and Reddy is black. But clearly to Jax, the two boys are exactly the same. (Well, except for their haircuts.)
Lydia posted a photo of Jax and Reddy, along with the story behind Jax’s haircut request, on her Facebook page on February 24. Since then, it’s received over 92K likes, 52K shares, and over 5K comments.
“If this isn’t proof that hate and prejudice is something that is taught I don’t know what is,” wrote Lydia. “The only difference Jax sees in the two of them is their hair.”
When I first learned of the little boys’ friendship and the sweet story behind Jax’s request, it resonated with me deeply. My husband and I are both white, and are parenting four black children, all of whom were adopted at birth. The fact that we’re a transracial family brought together by adoption is quite obvious to everyone we meet. But here’s what I always want everyone who meets us to walk away knowing: Difference isn’t bad. Difference is just that: difference.
In fact, difference should be celebrated, not condemned. Difference should be acknowledged, not ignored. Because the very word “black” isn’t one that should be whispered; because difference is what makes our world beautiful; and because there is joy in our children being exactly who they are.
Over my eight years of parenting children of color, I have found two things to be true when it comes to children’s understanding of race. First, children are naturally curious about difference. A child will often compare themselves to their peers and notice similarities and variations. This could be anything from the color shirt they wear, to their hair texture, their talents, the shape of their nose … anything! This is completely normal and healthy. The problem comes in when adults teach kids — or allow them to be taught — that difference is bad, scary, dangerous, or taboo.
One day during the first week of school, I was waiting outside the doors for one of my children to be dismissed. Another class exited the building first, and I observed a little boy burst out of the crowd, run into his mom’s arms, and exclaim, “There are three brown kids in my class! Three brown kids!” His mom, mortified, immediately shushed the boy and scooted him away from the other parents. And I thought, why not share in his excitement? Why not say, “Wow, honey! That’s really cool! What are their names?”
This is just one encounter in a sea of hundreds that my family has witnessed over the years, and sadly, the parental discomfort with a child’s acknowledgement of difference is not uncommon. But exposure to diversity is crucial. It’s one thing to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. in January every year and tell a child that everyone is unique, but to be entrenched in diversity every day is the true teacher. This includes reading books and watching shows and movies where the protagonist is black, or Asian, or some other race, and limiting exposure to monolithic stories where the hero is always a white male.
And diversity isn’t limited to race, either. Children need to be around those of different abilities, socioeconomic statuses, ages, and beliefs. The wider the child’s circle of friends, the more he or she will have love, acceptance, and empathy for others.
Many of today’s white parents were raised during a time in which diversity, racial pride, social justice, and civil rights were not discussed, emphasized, or taught. As a result, parents may struggle with their children’s questions and observations. It’s important to acknowledge that times have changed, and be open to admitting you don’t have all the answers, but are willing to engage, learn, and change for the better. Parents have the privilege of raising children who are open-minded and open-hearted from the start, who understand that similarities and differences are all beautiful, just like Jax and Reddy have found.
As the Civil Rights activist Ruby Bridges once famously said: “Racism is a grown-up disease and we need to stop using our children to spread it.”
Parents, if you silence anything, let it be racism. And if you speak of anything, let it be of acceptance.