It's Black History Month, and Laurel came home with a coloring book page of Jackie Robinson. We asked her why he was important, but really all she seemed to get was that he was a good baseball player. Marko also participated by coloring his own picture of Jackie Robinson. He used an orange crayon. He doesn't really know what baseball is, so I can't begin to imagine what he thought of that activity. And maybe that's the point. Maybe infants and preschoolers are just supposed to become familiar with famous Black people and not dive into the whole whys and hows of it. (Note, the daycare director and much of the staff is Black.) And not that this makes my kids racist, by any means, but it still got me thinking about whether or not I'm doing all I should be.
Did I miss the chapter on "Keep Your Kids From Turning into Racists" in the baby books? I suppose I had this loose expectation that if I raised my kids in an integrated neighborhood and we had friends from a variety of backgrounds then it would all take care of itself. (That was sort of dumb and white of me.) Little kids make a lot of broad and inaccurate assumptions as they are trying to figure out the world. Laurel, when she was about 2, seemed to think that the term "neighbor" meant someone with darker skin...I suppose because we often prompted her to wave to neighbors as they passed by our front porch.
The problem with trying to educate kids about the history of race relations is they just stare at you, incredulous at the absurdity of it all. When we recently talked about "black" or "white" with Laurel she gazed at her skin...trying to make it fit into her understanding of "white." When I asked her if she knew any Black people she named a selection of friends and family members, including my mother. (Why she thinks my mother is Black, I am not sure.) After she said that, I realized it's probably not that important for my daughter to classify people she knows by labels that they may or may not use themselves.
My kids have a lot of exposure to people who are not white. Not that I want them to be rude ever, but I especially don't want them to be rude to people of color. I'm not quite sure what level of white guilt spawns this desire, but it's there. I want to teach them ways to be respectful about labels and names and hair and culture, which roughly equates to just being a generally well-mannered human but seems to require some added clarification.
Part of me thinks I should talk with her a lot more, and part of me thinks we should just let it go for now and let her form her own ideas.
I work with a lot of people who are not white (or not all the way white like me? Am I all the way white?). I hesitate to even use a label because so many of the teens in my program balk at labels in general, or identify as multi-racial or Jamaican and are totally offended by the term "African-American" - but it's in my organization's mission statement and there's definitely some icky racist stuff going on in Pittsburgh that requires us to think something and say something about institutional racism.
This week, I've been carpooling with a young man who lives a few blocks away. Today, I almost asked him to meet me at the Walgreens. I say almost, because I realized at the last minute that a white lady pulling up to young black man in a parking lot known for drug trafficking might look rather suspicious. And we didn't really have time to get pulled over...we had an after-school program to run! Hahaha! Funny police stories. But seriously, this was a legitimate concern. And that's kind of indicative of the true state of racism in our country today.
So, happy black history month! Or African American History Month, if you prefer. Here's a few things I'm thinking about this month.
- Check out this podcast on State of the Reunion, especially damali ayo's piece. Or this one, about blurred racial lines. (Members of the same family cannot agree what race they are!?)
- Don't pretend to be colorblind.
- Make your kid's bookshelves more diverse. I like Zoobean's search function to point me in the direction of books with diverse characters.
- Read this paper.