23 June 2006


I hope you don't mind if I share with you the occasional endearing story. This one also concerns my son, Joseph, who is six years old.

Earlier today, when I was working at my desk, I let him and his brothers watch the movie, Hello Dolly!, a humorous musical starring Barbara Streisand, with lots of dancing, songs, colorful outfits, and parades. I watched the credits together with him at the start and saw that the movie featured Louis Armstrong. "Oh, Louis Armstrong!" I exclaimed, with much enthusiasm, "He is the most wonderful jazz trumpet player ever. 'Ol' Satchmo'. You have to watch for Louis Armstrong."

"Is he in the movie?" Joseph asked. "Yes," I said, "and you can't miss him. He's a black man who sings like this..." and then I imitated Armstrong's gravelly voice, singing a few bars of the title tune.

Joe began watching the movie, and at one point he called out to me, "Dad! I think I see Louis Armstrong!" I got up to look at the TV and saw Walter Matthau marching in a parade wearing a Knights of Columbus uniform. "No, that's not Louis Armstrong," I said, "that's Walter Matthau." "But he's wearing a black suit," Joseph said. I didn't quite get what he meant.

An hour later or so, Joseph shouted out again, smiling, "That's Louis Armstrong!" Sure enough, there he was on the screen, holding his trumpet and singing. "He's wearing black, Dad, just as you said."

In the scene, Louis Armstrong was performing on a stage and wore a black tuxedo. And then I realized: Joseph didn't even notice that his skin was black. When I first said the word 'black' to him, Joseph thought of black clothing, and he was, so to speak, blind as to the color of Louis Armstrong's skin.