December 11, 2007

Blue-eyed Black

My five-year-old son drew a picture of himself the other day. He talks quietly to himself while he draws. It's a cute little habit. I guess I do the same thing so I didn't mind it one bit. Just gave him a piece of paper and some crayons and let him draw on the floor while I worked on the computer.

"Now, I'm going to need brown for my face," he whispers. Scribble. Scribble. Scribble. "And I'll need blue for my eyes. So I'll look happy."

Whoa, wait a minute! My fingers froze in midair over the keyboard. Blue? When did he get blue eyes? I looked down at his self-portrait (which was looking pretty good, except for the eyes) and I said, "You have brown eyes, remember. Nice brown eyes."

Didn't matter, he was going to have blue eyes if it was the last thing he did. Having blue eyes was going to make him happy. That was a wake-up call for me. I made a mental note to be more intentional about giving my three 'brown-eyed' little Negro children a reason to be happy about how they look.

About a year ago, while shopping for high resolution stock photography online, I found a picture of a young black man with very fair skin and coffee brown eyes. I remember thinking instantly, "Here's my Isaac." As in Isaac Hunt, the main character in The Making of Isaac Hunt, of course.

That image fit the bill almost perfectly. This young model is handsome and fair-skinned. Real manly looking. Trouble was, he had brown eyes. So after a little editing magic, I made them blue. Yep. On purpose.

About a couple months after the book came out I had a signing. One black woman came up to the table and loudly proclaimed, without so much as a hello, 'You got problems.' She pointed at Isaac's blue eye. It disturbed her. A blue-eyed black.

I shrugged it off and made a mental note to be more disturbing. On purpose.

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