Recently, a middle-aged couple wandered into the bike shop where I work. It was toward the end of the day and while I did not have the pleasure of helping them, they stand out in my mind nonetheless. I did not speak to the couple but noted that they were attractive in a mellow, low-key way; it was their beautiful child who really caught my eye.
The child, just on the brink of adolescence, had gorgeous golden skin and blond hair tinged a very attractive copper. This child’s image could easily grace a glossy magazine cover or be used to sell any number of products: Truly breathtaking. As lovely as the child was, I said nothing to the parents.
I said nothing for a variety of reasons, foremost of which is that they were not my customers so I had no compelling need to speak to them; had I chosen to do so I would have been nothing but distraction. While this is true, it is also not what stilled my tongue. What convinced me to remain mute was the likelihood of terrible miscommunication.
The man was very dark skinned, I would describe him as black but likely from South America given his dark skin and hair combined with Latino facial features, and the woman was rubia, a fair haired, white skinned blonde. The lovely child was no princess for he was a he.
I chose to self-edit my admiration concerning the boy’s appearance because of racial and gender barriers. How condescending would it sound to a “mixed race” couple, two strangers, to hear a middle-aged white man congratulate them on the appearance of their beautiful son? And how creepy, how pedophilic, for a man to comment (I surely would not have said beautiful though that was the most descriptive word) on the appearance of a twelve-year-old boy?
And how sad that this is so?
Physical beauty is hardly the most important thing in this world but how we look is the first thing we present to others. I am unlikely to notice, dwell on, or comment on the attractiveness of children; it’s just not something that is usually on my RADAR. The fact that I felt compelled to acknowledge the boy’s appearance speaks loudly concerning how exceptional his appearance truly is and the fact that I chose to remain silent shouts how far we need to go concerning acceptance of others and the loosening of sexual stereotypes.
To make a hodgepodge of MLK Jr.- I did judge the child based on the color of his skin but it was fear that I would create a frightening picture concerning the content of my character that convinced me that silence was golden.