My background is Irish and German, Catholic and Baptist. From that, you might see a "white" person in your mind's eye. But I have rich, dark, olive skin – and green eyes. And my children.... Well, we really are a multihued family.
When my husband and I married, we decided that we would have one biological child, and then adopt as many children as we had resources to care for.
Our first daughter was born a year into our marriage. She was our "homemade" child. Then a son came who was biracial, black and white.
Then we adopted a daughter whose birth parents were African-American, and finally a son whose mother was from Africa, his father unknown.
All have grown into fine young adults now, but when they were younger, it was quite an experience going out in public with them. My husband and I were sometimes asked if we were baby-sitting, if we were foster parents, or, once, if we were "dragging all the neighborhood children along with us."
I have had countless opportunities to observe and try to understand human nature.
I remember us sitting in a restaurant having lunch as a family. Halfway through the meal, I saw an elderly woman looking over at our table. She continued to stare, and then leaned over and spoke to her husband, who also began staring in our direction.
I told my husband quietly, "They're talking about the kids."
He watched them for a while. "You're right," he said, "but just ignore them." Easy to say, tough to do – they weren't smiling, and they didn't look like particularly tolerant people.
Finally, they stood up to leave and headed straight for our table. I sat as tall as I could.
The woman looked me straight in the eye and said, "We just wanted to tell you, your children are the most well-behaved children we have ever seen in a restaurant. They're just beautiful. I wish my grandchildren would sit so nicely and had manners like yours do!"
Her words caused me to shed tears of humility and gratitude. I had made a judgment about her based on her race, her age, and her actions.
I was wrong on all three counts, and it taught me a lesson I still remember 25 years later: Although it may be easier to categorize people based on what we see with our eyes, it requires contact and communication, even if it's only at the most basic level, before we can begin to read what is in a person's heart.