My daughter has seen tons of male heroes and role models thanks to her older brother. IronMAN, SuperMAN, SpiderMAN. One day we were talking about flying airplanes and helping people and she very seriously said, “No, mommy. Only boys do that.”
So I went out and purchased story books about real life lady-heroes.
I read Amelia Earhart and she positively glowed!
Inspired, I moved on to Rosa Parks, excited to show her how a woman sat down and gave momentum to a whole movement.
And yet, as I was reading the descriptions of segregation with separate water fountains, not being allowed to eat at certain places, separate schools, the racial slurs, back of the bus vs. the front of the bus… I caught myself.
This is a children’s book?
It is easy to forget the depth and the horror of the discrimination that occurred. It took me aback. I had not thought about these things in a long time. Not since high school civics class, in fact. I think about the current state of racial discrimination now quite a lot, but really sitting down and thinking about where it all started? Not so much.
What if it had been me?
I live in the South and not only was it real, it is not really gone. Discrimination may not be as overt, but it is certainly still there. Generations will have to die off before it is completely over.
They have every right to be angry.
My kids see their friends as friends, not colors. As I read about Rosa Parks, I started to worry. Is this book going to change that? I don’t want them going back to school talking about black this and white that or even getting the inkling that we are somehow not all equals and all friends. Someday they will have to face the history and reconcile it but not yet.
I don’t want to be the white doctor with the white kids getting in trouble for racial slurs at school. Not because they are mean at heart, but because they are repeating what they heard in a storybook.
How young is too young?
So I finished the story, glossing over some points, and closed the book, putting it up on a shelf to revisit at a later date. I ignored the cries of, “Mommy, read it again!”
Fast forward a few weeks and my kids were learning about Martin Luther King at school. Of course they would. They attend a predominately African American school.
It just hadn’t dawned on me.
After school my daughter excitedly told me everything she now knows about Dr. King. They are not too young to understand, as it turns out. I need to have more faith in kids in general and in mine in particular.
Ignoring the past does not make it go away. We can always honor it and learn from it, but we should never, ever ignore it.