21 January 2008

racism for six-year-olds

James had school off today, and he's old enough now to pay attention to holidays and to ask questions about why we celebrate them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a hard one to explain to a six-year-old. He knew of the idea of slavery from a conversation we had about Lincoln a while ago, but how do you explain prejudice, segregation, discrimination, and institutional racism to a child who has no concept of race? He's had classmates and neighbors of all different ethnicities. We have interracial marriages on both sides of my family, so he has cousins with varying skin tones too. He's used to seeing people of different colors in all kinds of settings. Racism -- even the very idea of difference -- has never come up. It's never needed to come up.

So how do you introduce a child to the injustices of the world? How do you explain the importance of King's work, of his life, without exposing the uglier side of humanity? I don't suppose you can, but it's a hard thing to have to tell a child. It's harder still to know that despite King's efforts, there is still a racial divide in America, that it is a really big deal that one of the frontrunners for the presidential race is a black man, that though we don't notice color, there are still so many people who do.

I suppose I should be expressing my gratitude to King, and everyone else who's fought the struggle for civil rights, that my son doesn't know the concept of race in the first place. Hopefully for James and his generation, race will continue to decrease in significance. Maybe someday we will achieve King's dream, and James can tell his children or grandchildren about racism not as something that still permeates society, but as just another chapter in the history books.

1 comment:

April said...

Just lurking on your blog; found you through a friend. I thought this was a pretty cool way to teach about racism and MLK Day. Fun blog BTW.