The year was 1960 and I was 4 years old. My parents had a housekeeper/babysitter to help while they both worked. One day my father noticed that she would sneak me off behind the basement door on the landing where she kept her personal belongings. When he asked me about this, I told him quite casually that I had told her to bring me pink and red jelly beans every morning as those were the only ones I liked, and that she would separate them for me. He asked me if there was anything else she would do for me. I said, yep, everything. So he started watching us. When I wanted a doll from my room upstairs, I would just tell her to go get it. She would stop what she was doing and go get my doll. I could sit on the couch and bark orders and she would obey. One day he called us both into the living room. He was visibly upset. He asked her about how she felt about the differences of being black and white skinned. She was from one of the southern states and had just moved to Washington State. She spoke of walking down a street and if white people were walking toward her, she would have to walk out into the street, even into oncoming traffic, so the white people would not have to share the sidewalk with a black person.
I remember feeling sick and not being able to move. She had been taught that white people, no matter the age, could tell a black person what to do and it was expected they do it, or lose their job, or worse. He asked her if she wanted to lose her job now. She replied that she did not. He, in front of me, told her that she was the adult and I was the child. She was to be respected and I was to obey the rules. Skin color was not important. He asked her if she could comply with those rules. She said she could not do that. My father pleaded with her to understand how she was not in the south anymore, and that he really liked her and wanted her to stay on. I will never forget when he looked at me and said that I would remember this moment for the rest of my life, and to learn the lesson well. He told her that we are all human, no matter the skin color. We all get up every morning having to use the bathroom, take a shower, brush our hair and teeth and that we put our pants on one leg at a time. Color was not a factor in any of that whatsoever. Then my father did something that shocked both her and I….he fired her. He told her that because I was so young, he could not allow me to grow up thinking that the way she treated me was right. He owed it to me to show me that racism is wrong. If she could not help him teach me that, then he would have to let her go so I could not continue to misuse her. She cried. I cried. She got her things. She walked out the door. I love my father for the lesson that even though in reality it was not my fault she got fired, it was because he refused to let me grow up thinking that I was more important than anyone else.