After school yesterday, in the car on the way to ballet class … we’re just driving along in a companionable silence, listening to All Things Considered. La la la, driving driving driving, listening … When, out of the blue, Kid pipes up with the following (in that lilting voice that she uses to tell stories with every phrase sounding like a question):
Last year? Before King Junior was dead? Black people and white people couldn’t sit near each other! And black children and white children couldn’t go to school together! That wasn’t nice. It wasn’t fair.
And I’m all like, what? King who? Huh? And I’m trying to put it together and she is going on about the unfairness. Two years ago there was a boy they called “Junior” in her class and I’m thinking “Ohmigod! Junior is DEAD?” but then I zone in on the black and white and it starts to fall into place. Oh! Martin Luther King Junior! Right! So I respond, "I know – isn’t it terrible to think about not being able to go to the same school without Talisha and Nia and Gemale!" (And most of the rest of her class, actually). But wait! There was more!
So King Junior? He’s dead? But Maurice said he came back to life? But Sam said no, that was Jesus.
Umm … I’m not touching that for now – I just clarified that King Junior and Jesus are two different guys and that yes, people do believe that Jesus came back to life – that is what Easter is all about.
Apparently her teacher read them a book about Martin Luther King, Jr. And I expect they’ll get more exposure today in Library. Diversity education for her up until now has been to just “put her in it” – i.e. to make sure she was in peer groups that included all kinds of kids.
And now Kindergarten:
I think race is invisible to kids up until a certain age. We never used labels and I doubt she would have referred to her black preschool friends “black” ... she might have said “brown” – just in terms of objective classification (she may just as well have called herself “pink” or “peachy”). Now she’s in a 90% non-white school (52% Black) and “King Junior” day is coming up followed by Black History month – both of which are tightly woven into the curriculum and will be celebrated with assemblies, etc. We picked this school largely because of the diversity and I love that so much attention is focused on MLK and Black History month. A culturally relative education is crucial to building a positive self-image for the non-white kids – and is in turn essential for their academic success. This is one [of the many] things that Kid’s school does very very well. But part of me is wistful for the days of innocence when she was friends with all different colors of kids and she didn’t even notice. I guess though it is a nice consolation that the dawning of the age of awareness and labels is happening in an environment wherein she believes firmly that it was “not nice and not fair” when life was different.