At 6:45 this morning our daughter asked us a question that sat us right on our butt. I’m still in shock. I’d expected questions like the one she posed, but certainly not in kindergarten. Hubby and I have even had hypothetical conversations about what we would do in “X” situation. Yeah, you can’t prepare for it and especially not at 6:45 in the morning. Our daughter asked,
Why would someone say that white people and black people shouldn’t mix?
I’m a Sociologist. I talk race for a living. I can facilitate the heck out of conversations whether online, face to face or using an interactive video system. I get high ratings for this kind of work. My eloquent first response this morning? “Uh…” (deer in headlights, WHAT THE HELL running through my brain, and there isn’t enough caffeine in the world for this face).
Hubby stepped up and quietly (like he was approaching a time bomb) asked, “Honey, where did you hear that?” Dr. Sociologist is still saying, “Uh….” At this point, Munchkin sees our faces and knows that she has said something wrong, but we do not want her to get upset because she NEEDS to be able to ask us why someone would say these things. We know this is one of those moments. I finally snap out of it and hug her reassuringly and tell her we’d really like to know where she heard it. From this, we deduced it was at school though she is still pretty cagey about where in school.
Again…WHAT THE HELL?
A million things were running through my head. I was thinking about a conversation I’d JUST HAD LAST NIGHT with a friend about race, education, and a pretty messed up situation. I was thinking, “IT’S 6:45 IN THE MORNING!” I was thinking, “Why has my baby been exposed to this thinking?!”
And, I knew we had to keep it simple. We had to keep it on the level of a 5-year-old. We very slowly told her that we love all people. That all people can love each other. That love isn’t just for some people and not for others. We talked about all the people in her world who are wonderfully unique that she loved and who loved her. We talked about how much better her life is for knowing those people. We talked about how much she would be missing if she did not have them. We bumbled through. We stumbled.
We then told her, and I think this is key, that the person who said those things is WRONG. We did not chalk it up to “some people just think differently.” No. We flat out told her that they are WRONG. We also took it a step further that might land us in the teacher conference one day, but we also told her that when she hears things like that she has our permission to say it is WRONG. I feel like we at least did that part alright.
I feel like at age 5 that is about the best we can do for now–keep it simple while also giving her a voice to tell someone that kind of thinking is wrong. We can try so hard to protect her, but I cannot protect her from playground talk, talk at dance class, things she may overhear in the grocery store. But, I can teach her how to respond to these situations and remind her of the values and people we hold dear.
I’m sitting at work writing this now. I’ve spent the first nearly 2 hours at work writing welcome messages to my online students in race, class, and gender and to my sociology of gender students. I’m reminded how important these classes are in trying to overcome these early messages kids get and then they carry into young adulthood. I’m not often at a loss for words, but this morning just kicked me in the stomach and made my heart hurt.
But, I can say this–COME ON, ADULTS! WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS. WE MUST DO BETTER THAN THIS.