My Struggle Today | onehandclapping

My daughter came home from school recently with a worksheet that described life before and after Martin Luther King Jr. One side of the sheet had statements like “Before Dr. King African-American children couldn’t go to the same school as white children. Was that fair?” while the other side said “Now African-American and white children can go to school together. Is this fair?” The point was obviously an at home discussion about prejudice, but what it sparked with our daughter was a discussion about the concept of race itself.

Emma is just in kindergarten and in both preschool and kindergarten she has been one of maybe three or four white children in classes of 20-25 kids. Just going to our neighborhood grocery store or park is like attending a world cultures assembly. Needless to say, she is just used to everyone around her looking different. When she describes her friends at school, she never mentions skin color and instead differentiates her friends by the sort of hair they have. She knows and celebrates that different cultures have different holidays and types of food, but until now she has had little need to understand the construct of race.

So in discussing the world before and after Martin Luther King Jr. we had a hard time introducing her to the concept. At first we tried to explain that segregation meant that she wouldn’t have been able to be in the same school as her two closest friends (who happen to be African-American). She then wanted to know who had done something wrong to prevent them from all going to the same school. We tried to explain about skin color and race then, but she really wasn’t getting it. As far as she knows it is perfectly normal for everyone around her to have different colors of skin (and to speak with all sorts of accents), trying to explain that that didn’t used to be the case was beyond her 5 year old mind.

While I completely understand the need to teach the sins of the past so that they will not be repeated (and restitution can be made), I had to wonder if this lesson on race could do her more harm than good. If my daughter sees no reason why people would ever be different because of skin color, I don’t want to be the one explaining to her the alternative (and I completely realize here that this may be a dilemma only those in positions of cultural power wrestle with which adds a whole different dimension). As I faced this dilemma, I was reminded of the time I read her the (controversial) book And Tango Makes Three about a baby penguin that was adopted by two penguin daddies. The book that had adults all up in arms for presenting the existence of same-sex relationships to children was for her no big deal. To her a book solely about a penguin getting two daddies was boring – what others saw as extreme she accepted as normal. In that instance, I decided very quickly that I wasn’t going to try to convince her that her definition of normal wasn’t universal.

But I’m uncertain in this situation how to best guide her through these issues. I know I need to teach her truth and expose her to reality, but I don’t want to corrupt her heart by being the one to teach her about racism, bigotry, or sexism simply because I am speaking against them. I assume the evils of the world will make themselves known to her eventually, but I’d rather her think being kind and loving to all people regardless of differences is the normal way to be for as long as possible. But I am still left with days like today and school worksheets asking me to teach her about a great man by destroying what she thinks is normal. And I don’t know what to do.

This is exactly how I feel about this.

2 thoughts on “My Struggle Today | onehandclapping

  1. Wow girl, that is quite the dilemma. I guess there are things you do not realize when you do not have children. Without giving this too much in depth thought my gut tells me that you are right. Why spoil her colorful all-inclusive childhood with a lesson on sins of the past. Whether she wants to or not, she will learn these things in time. We grew up learning about American history without the contributions of those who didn’t look like us, (okay maybe we had a sprinkling of Frederick Douglass and Dr. MLK, Jr, but nothing about African American women or great people of other races, religions or ethnicities) and we were forced to either make up for that later in life or remain clueless about these things. I chose to make up for it- my memories of college are of one history class after another learning things that I was angry that I didn’t know. I guess we should be thankful that kids today are getting a more diverse education, even if it means bringing up tough issues. With Brian and I being an interracial couple I have had friends tell me before that they do not teach their children about race and that it is their desire that their children not see anything special or out of the ordinary in our marriage. As you may know, we were married on the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision and sometimes I think that maybe we are making a big deal out of something that is seen as nothing to those younger than us- especially children. Although it is to be praised to know your history and be mindful of it I am sure it can be hurtful or damaging to be bound by it or pained by it.

  2. You nailed it Darcy. There’s a part of me that wants my kids to understand that, from a historical perspective, what you and Brian have is pretty amazing. But there’s a part of me that LOVES that when they see a biracial couple, they don’t see anything special at all. I definitely think it’s important that the next generation understand what happened in our past (or they will be doomed to repeat it) but HOW to present it is something I think our generation is still figuring out.

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