My ginger-haired one year old gets a lot of attention on the streets of Accra, his present home city. For one, since our family doesn't own a stroller he's usually walking, while most Ghanaian babies his age ride wrapped onto their mama's back. For another, he's got that red hair.
And of course, he's white. White people comprise a definite minority here, and when walking even more so - whites tend to be of the wealthier set who take mostly to cars.
My boy also gets attention because he gives it; his favorite thing to do when out and about is to wave at everyone he sees. Most wave back. Some pause for a high five.
On a recent walk, my kid's friendliness so inspired one man he stopped to talk. He had something he wanted to get across to us, and through a thick accent and English a mite garbled, we got most of it.
"We blacks," he said, "we blacks, we teach our kids to discriminate." My wife and I are divided about whether he was saying that Ghanaians (in his opinion of course) teach their kids to discriminate against whites or between families/ethnic groups. But his central message, as he continued to talk with a fair amount of passion, was clear - it's better to teach children to be accepting of and open to everyone.
"It is good," the stranger said of my son's impartial friendliness. "He will live long."
One year olds, I'm pretty sure, don't see race. But it might be a lot easier to teach children to discriminate - between things, or against people - than I think. I do know that, for myself, learning how to 'see' and respond to race has been a lifelong, continuing experience.
"May he live to be 100 years before he is called up," the man said of my son, by way of goodbye. And I hope he keeps his openness all those livelong years.