The First Boy to Ever Give Me Flowers

The first boy to give me flowers was Joseph. We were in kindergarten. Joseph went to the same morning and afternoon daycare as me, so I saw him every day. One morning, I asked Joseph and his friend if I could play with them. As any kindergartener would, I expected Joseph to say “sure” or “yeah” or something like that.

I probably was already starting to join them when Joseph said, “No. You’re too brown to play with us.”

Too brown. Not even too black. I understand that he was young enough to see my skin color. I mean, he was too young to deny that he saw my skin color. He understood that we couldn’t play together because his skin was different than mine—because his was somehow better than mine. But he didn’t understand that it wasn’t because my skin was too brown; it was because my skin was too black. When you’re old enough to know that you’re not supposed to see color, brown becomes black. And it’s no longer just not okay to play together.

We can’t live together. We can’t learn together. We can’t be together.

I was probably upset by his rejection. It probably bruised my five-year-old heart a little. I was probably shocked—my first personal encounter with racism that I fully understood. And when I went home and told my mother about it, she was probably a little upset. I imagine that if I had a daughter, and some little boy told my young daughter that because her skin—the skin that I loved, the skin that I made— was too brown, I would be upset, too.

After hearing what happened, my mother handled it. I don’t know who she talked to or when she did, but when I went to daycare the next day, Joseph apologized. His apology seemed sincere—as sincere as a kindergartener can be, anyways. He gave me a hand-written letter, apologizing. And when his mother came to pick him up, she called Joseph over to take a bouquet of flowers from her to give to me.

I’m sure Joseph’s mother was embarrassed. Usually a young child’s racist remarks reflect their parents’ beliefs and values. She was probably worried that we thought of her and her family as racists. I don’t know anything about Joseph’s family, but I think that if Joseph learned anything like that from his parents, he would’ve said too black and not too brown.

Joseph gave me the flowers, and I had to carry them back through the daycare to put them up. And then it was over.

I don’t remember anything about the flowers. I don’t remember what I did with them. I don’t think Joseph stayed at my school for very long. I don’t remember seeing him much after that.

Years have passed, flowers have been given, and I’ve almost forgotten about the first boy to give me flowers—almost. As the years went on and the flowers came and my heart toughened to the ever more frequent encounters with ignorance and rejection, the first flowers—the story of the first flowers—has faded away in memory. Life went on as it always does and the memory of the experience became less and less significant.

Nevertheless, it was the first. In many ways, it taught me what my experiences with discrimination would look like. Because of that first experience, I know to prepare for the confusion that comes with the illogical nature of racism. I know to expect to feel bruised by rejection and to find support in my mother. Most importantly, I now know that the experience doesn’t have to end with the rejection. I have the agency to say what’s wrong is wrong. And while I can’t change being too brown, I can make sure I get my flowers in the end.

Lela Owens