And that, in return, reminded me of something else.
Now we go back in time, to the moment when I was four or maybe five – no more than five – and saw a man of African descent for the first time (there are not many of them where I live, and back then, there were even less of them, it was just a small number of foreign students and of diplomats). His appearance puzzled me, so I asked my parents, aloud: “Why are his lips black?”
You see, while both of my parents were white, my father was very white and stayed that way, he could get horrible sunburns and barely ever tanned; on the other hand, my mother was a half-Greek, and she tanned easily, and a lot; during the summers, she’d look like a gypsy. So, when I saw this man, I thought he just spent a lot of time in the sun and tanned even more easily then my mother – but if that was the case, why were his lips black? My mother’s lips never changed color, no matter how much she tanned.
Of course, my parents silenced me, and looked around to see if the man heard me and if he was offended. He didn’t seem to notice.
Some time later, I was looking into a picture book for children, and there was this picture of a black boy and a white girl playing together on a beach. And I said to my father that the boy must have spent a lot of time in the sun. It was then that he explained it to me that some people were born black like I was born white. I was like ‘Oh”, and that was it.
Fast-forward now. I’m twelve or thirteen, and talking to my best friend, like girls talk about this and that. And she tells me, “Imagine how stupid I was when I was little, I asked my dad if a black man could become white after being washed with a detergent!” We both laughed after that silly idea, and i told her about my first question about a black guy, and we laughed some more.
Now when I think of it, both of her parents were very white and barely tanned. And they were both a bit on the obsessed side when it came to cleaning, everything had to be clean and shiny. So her assumption was as logical as mine was, in its own way.
Fast-forward some more. We’re both in our early twenties now, still friends, still talking about this and that. It was quickly after the Belgrade marathon, a sports manifestation attracting many runners, some of them of the African descent. Part of their route went through the street I lived in, so I could watch them from my window, which I did, and mentioned to my friend sometime later that the black runners looked really good. Then she told me she didn’t really like black people. I was puzzled by that, since neither of us actually knew anyone of African descent – how can you dislike (or like, for that matter) someone you don’t even know? And she told me they reminded her of filth. She was well aware it was irrational, and it’s not like she would ever be rude to or harm a person of African descent just because of their origin, it was just how she felt about them.
I asked her what if I married a black guy someday, and had black kids with him, would she see my children as filthy? She was honestly surprised by the question, and said of course not, they would be my children, she could never see my child as filthy.
It’s so weird, how some small things we rarely or never think of, can form our opinions, and influence our way of thinking and seeing the world and the people in it.