When I arrived in Canada as a child of six and saw white children for the very first time in my grade one classroom, I found their fair hair and blue eyes intriguing, simply because it was different from anything I had seen before. I did not feel myself to be either superior or inferior to them in any way. I simply noted the difference with interest, grew accustomed to it, and soon became friends with every child in the class. They, in turn, quickly accepted me as one of their own and did not seem to be aware of me being different in any way, other than the fact that I was a new student.
Later on, I lived in a very multicultural neighborhood and went to school with children of many different races and ethnic backgrounds. I had friends who were Chinese, Vietnamese, African, white, Hispanic, East Indian, and Middle Eastern. There were approximately 400 students at my elementary school and I don’t recall ever having witnessed or experienced a sense of segregation among the students. Children of all racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds played together in joy and harmony. It was truly a microcosm of what the world is meant to be.
Although there were children of many races at my school, the majority of the students were of Chinese and Vietnamese descent. Indeed, some years, I was one of the very few students in my class who were not from one of these two backgrounds. One day, when I was in the fourth grade, our teacher asked us all to bring a baby picture of ourselves to school, but not to show it to anyone. The idea was to put all the photos on a bulletin board in the classroom, and then have the students guess the identity of each baby.
One by one, we went through each cute photograph and struggled to guess which one of our many classmates it was. At last, it was my turn, and I held my breath in anticipation as I waited for the guessing to begin. To my surprise, however, this time, there was no fumbling for the right answer. Many students knew right away that the chubby baby girl with the frilly bonnet was me.
Years later, as a young woman, recalling the incident and laughing about it with my mother, the answer to the mystery suddenly struck me. Why should it have seemed so odd that everyone, including the teacher, immediately recognized the baby as me? Why wouldn’t they? The vast majority of students in the class were either Chinese or Vietnamese. There were very few of us who weren’t and, of those few, I was the only little girl of Iranian descent.
This simple incident and the fond and humorous memory it created got me thinking. What was it that had caused such an obvious answer to elude my sharp nine-year-old brain at the time? I realized it was the fact that I was so oblivious to the differences between myself and my classmates because none of us were ever made to feel that we were different.
Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t that we were aware of our differences, but made a conscious effort to tolerate or overcome them. We simply didn’t feel that there was any real difference. We were all just children, with the same joy, fear, hope, and excitement experienced by any child, from the most pristine Swiss boarding school to the most remote and primitive tribe in Africa. If we were aware, on some level, of the superficial differences among ourselves, we did not dwell on these differences. They seemed completely irrelevant. It was as if, in our childish wisdom, with the purity and clarity of vision characteristic of that very special time in our lives, we recognized how unessential they were to who we actually were as people.
Years later, in university, I ran into an old classmate from elementary school. He was a young man of Vietnamese descent and was studying at the same university. We were excited to have found each other after all these years and, although we didn’t have many classes together, made an effort to get together for lunch as often as we could.
There was something very pure and genuine about the rekindled friendship and I realized it was because we had known one another as children and, although having lost contact for years, we were quickly able to call up the innocent purity of that childhood bond and instantly feel a connection that it would have taken years to establish had we met as adults, or even as teenagers, if such a sincere and solid connection would even have been possible to achieve at this later stage.
Children are pure. They are not born with a tendency towards hatred and prejudice because these are unnatural conditions which are brought about by ignorance, fear and lack of education. It is we, the “sophisticated” adults who teach them these things, not necessarily through our words, but through our actions and the way we live our lives and relate to others.
Why is childhood such a charming and magical time in many of our lives? It’s because, as children, we love so freely and with such purity. We simply enjoy sharing life’s simple pleasures with our friends, regardless of the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, or the religion of their parents. We’re all children, and that’s enough. Even after we’ve grown into our sophisticated adult selves, we’re all still children of God. How long will it be before we recognize this fact and realize that it’s enough?
Originally published at medium.com