Damon, my five-year-old white grandson, announced to his Aunt Kimberly recently that he was black.
Kimberly: No, Sugar Booger; you’re white, just like Daddy.
Damon: Well when I get bigger, I’m gonna be black.
Only a few weeks later he asked his pregnant Aunt Kimberly, “Is your baby gonna be a Mexican?”
Kimberly: No silly, Uncle Drew is the Daddy. The baby will be white like me and Uncle Drew.
Damon: I don’t want Mexican; I like white.
And days later, Damon asked his mom “Am I white or am I black?”
For the record, Damon doesn't even know what "Mexican" is, but he has heard someone, probably not in his immediate family, say something negative about someone "Mexican."
Damon has learned the truth at an early age: Race matters. It is not just a matter of skin color. Somehow it means something. For Damon it’s an issue of identity as well as identification, preference, and (he thinks) choice.
When I was five, I don’t think I put any value on the differences among skin color. From birth I had been surrounded by a broadness of hue amongst those who loved me. I drew this picture of my family (I think it’s just us kids) and used the orange crayon even though a brown one was available. I think I perceived skin color as just gradations on a spectrum with no social significance (at five I probably used different language). If so, then biologically speaking, I was right.
But Damon knows that biology is not what matters with race. And he’s trying to figure out what does matter.