This whole exchange started innocently enough.
On Friday I met T at his office for a welcome lunch. It was to welcome the new nurse that had recently joined the staff. Because traffic in Jakarta is, as has been previously mentioned, bad I gave myself plenty of time to travel and ended up arriving thirty minutes early. Since there is a Starbucks in the lobby I decided to enjoy my new favorite flavor, Asian Dolce Latte before heading up. The young ladies behind the counter were happy and chatty, normal for Starbucks, and business at that hour was slow.
We established in our exchange that I didn't work in the building but was visiting my husband who did and they thought it was very sweet that I was coming in to join him for lunch. I then headed up to join the festivities.
It is pertinent to note here that my driver is a devout Muslim, and it is Friday. I note this because I feel it is the least I can do for the man who totes me around town that I make sure he is free to attend Friday prayers. This not a hardship on my part, it honors him as another human and it only takes a little co-ordination on my part. I mention this because we had scheduled for him to return to collect me at 1:30 and lunch was done at 12:45. Since T needed to get back to work I did what anyone else would do, I went back and parked myself in Starbucks with what was left of my coffee and a book.
At this point it is still pretty slow and one of the baristas came over to talk to me.
We chatted about how my lunch was and she tried to figure out who my husband was. Since he had just been in the Starbucks with me I pointed out she had just missed him and proceeded to try and find a picture on my phone to show her.
This is when it happened.
As I am scrolling through the pictures looking for one of T I jokingly noted I had lots of pictures of my kids but was having trouble finding one of him.
And then she said: " Your children must be beautiful because they are white"
I'm going to let that sink in.
It took me a few moments to catch it. In fact I was well past that point in the conversation when my brain did the..."Did she just say what I think she said!?!" Maybe because my children might pass for white, but generally don't, and are in fact biracial. Maybe because I was not expecting anything so sad to be said in such a matter of fact way.
I have discussed in earlier posts how I tend to draw attention when I am out. I have blond hair and fair skin and I am in South East Asia. I have never thought in any way that this made me more beautiful, just different.
Later that evening T came across something in a book he is reading about Jakarta discussing the perceived superiority of light skin in this region. It is interesting to note that the people of Java, where Jakarta is located are generally lighter skinned than many from some of the people native to the other islands. This is such a phenomenon that many people will try to lighten their skin with creams and powders. The article then discussed the irony of how whites come to these islands, typically Bali, and try to get darker through tanning. It seems no one is happy with the skin they are in.
I am not out to save the world with my blog but I would encourage you to appreciate the beauty in every shade humans come in. I am treating this as my own wake up call.
A reminder that in the future that I will be able to do my part to correct this assumed bias.
I eventually found a picture of T and showed her. She knew just who he was, someone must be visiting Starbucks regularly. She then admired my lovely dark haired darker skinned children.
She went off to make the next customer's coffee and I was left to ponder how such a lovely young woman could think she was any less lovely because the color of her skin.