According to Me: My beacon of hope

As I sat on the bench just a few yards from the exit, I watched a simple scene unfold that reminded me of a powerful, profound lesson. It was a nondescript moment that will likely mean next to nothing for those involved, but it spoke volumes to me about the human condition and the stark dichotomy that exists between the way we come into this world and the way we allow ourselves to be changed over course of time.

I watched as a lady walked by and smiled at my one-year-old daughter who, like she always does, smiled back. The lady reached ever so gently toward her with one finger in the manner that people so often seem to greet babies.

With the infectiousness of her smile creeping around the edges of the pacifier, my daughter took hold of that finger and gripped it tightly. It was a way of acknowledgement, a greeting of sorts. And while that was not entirely an uncommon occurrence, my daughter did not seem to want to let go, scarcely breaking the kind stranger’s gaze at any point during the exchange.

Maybe it is because I was feeling introspective. Maybe it was that the moment punctuated a week in which I’ve heard far too many racial epithets. Or perhaps it is because of the media-fueled tapestry of racial discord that permeates our societal soundtrack of late. Whatever the cause, it meant something to me that my daughter did not see a black woman greeting her. She just saw a woman. She looks at the world the way God intended for all of us to see it…through uncolored glasses.

It is something I’ve noticed in my son during his brief three years in this world. He does not see color and it is my prayer he never does.

I saw it in my nephew last summer when he visited for our annual Vacation Bible School. During the afternoon, he made a trip to the pool at the Ratliff Center. He was the only white child swimming that day. And, true to his nature, he did not seem to care a bit. He plays with everyone just the same.

What does all of this mean? If it means nothing to you, please feel free to cease reading whenever you like.

To me, it is a reminder of a truth that we so often allow ourselves to forget: we are not born into the world with inherent prejudices. Those have to be learned, instilled over time. They are born of a climate of fear – or misunderstanding – that is fostered, fed and fueled by the influential people in our lives.

We have to learn to make judgments based upon skin color. We have to learn to base the choice of who we smile at, talk with and spend time around on something so superficial as complexion. And we have to be taught that things such as complexion can reveal to us the truth about the character of a person or their inherent worth as an individual.

And while all of that may sound like extremes to some, the reality is that the rhetoric of our society points to the uncomfortable truth that many of us do just those kinds of things. The unfortunate residue of the generations that have preceded us is that we draw lines of distinction like black, white, Hispanic, Asian or the like. It comes out far too frequently not just in our descriptions of an individual’s physical traits, but in our characterization of the individual.

Black or white or whatever ethnic label we apply becomes not just a categorization of skin tone, but somehow an accepted, stereotyped definitive that we allow to blanket a segment of the population.

And even in our quest to change things for the better, we rely so heavily on rhetorical devices that do little more than to bastardize the truth even further. We have phrases like “Black Lives Matter” that become cultural vanguards of a generation. Of course black lives matter. Black lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Old lives matter. Young lives matter. My son’s life matters. My daughter’s life matters. And the lovely woman who stopped to greet her in the grocery store? Her life matters too.

Life matters. And when that life exits the womb and enters a world of people who have so long forgotten the genesis of their natures, it is not given to labels, categorizations, preconceived notions, stereotypes, biases or prejudices. It’s not prone to walking a little faster to avoid contact with someone of a different complexion or basing educational, recreational or even culinary choices upon skin-defined demographic lines.

That life, at its very beginning is and does none of those things. And because of this simple truth – of which I was so plainly reminded as my daughter gripped the finger of a stranger – I have to believe that we can shift the rhetoric, that we can alter our thinking, that we can choose to define ourselves differently by changing how we define those around us. I have to believe that we can teach our children to be different, to be better, to be indiscriminate. I have to believe that what we are in our beginning is what we should be in our end: loving, caring, warm, inviting. Colorblind.

Jeremy D. Smith is managing partner of The West Alabama Watchman. He has covered news and sports in Demopolis since 2008. His column, According to Me, appears weekly on