Friday, January 15, 2010


It occurred to me that Marins' class might discuss race issues next week, so I thought I better get a preview. Marins' teacher was great. She said "I'm really glad you called, because I have been a little anxious about this, too. Will you come in Friday AM before school and review the lesson with me?" Boy, am I glad I did.

First, a little context. Ethiopia is the only African country that was never colonized and one of the few regions that was not involved in slave trade. Marin saw brown skinned people in all positions of power, wealth, and poverty. There was no marginalization based on skin color.

Back to the classroom. There were two basic books. One was a biography of MLK that spent a fair amount of time describing the isolation and discrimination he endured as a child. It is so different to read these stories know as the parent of an African child. All I think about is how she is going to feel being the only black kid in the room when they talk about black kids being picked on. I asked the teacher how she is going to teach this. She said she is going to focus on respect. That people in the past were not respectful but now we spend a lot of time teaching respect. Be respectful is one of the key precepts in our primary school.

I decided I was OK with that, as long as she kept an eye on Marin and Marin did not show any visible signs of distress.

The second book was the story of Ruby Bridges, one of the first black girls to attend a white school during the school integration movement. This book was pretty intense. It told about courtroom battles where lawyers argued to keep blacks out of white schools. It had photos of riots and protests. The upshot was a real newsphoto of Ruby climbing the steps of the white school escorted by armed soldiers. Ruby looked like Marin. The teacher turned to me and said "I am not at all comfortable with this one. That little girl looks so much like Marin." I'm thinking to myself "Holy cow, that IS Marin." So we agreed she would not teach the Ruby Bridges book.

This is the conflict. On the one hand, you can't hide from history and all these kids are going to learn about these events some day. On the other hand, Marin is the only black kid in her class and she is really sociable and well liked. Do we want to risk upsetting that supportive environment by introducing all the hatred and unfairness of past generations?

I'll tell you, America's history takes on a whole different hue when viewed from the perspective of what it could do to your child's self esteem and relationships with classmates when she is sitting in a room full of whites learning about all the past crimes and injustices committed against her people only because of their skin color. It is painful.


Verbenabeth said...

We discovered that Kaly has been learning the same lessons in school for the past 2 weeks yesterday. While I was a little bit po'd that I wasn't informed, I have to say that it was done in a very careful way and it has allowed us to have some pretty deep talks with both girls since. We continue to teach tolerance and respect and stress that humans have always belittled and marginalized those that are different. Kaly is adamant that humans are not like that anymore "mostly" and the ones that are are to be pitied. What a mature future leader. Hope Marin has the same wonderful teachers and concerned school that Kaly has!

Jeff said...

Actually, this is Helen... I have also been thinking about this a lot lately in light of MLK, Jr. Day and with Black History Month next month! Amani, Kyla, and I read Martin's Big Words and discussed MLK, Jr. Amazing man, but hard to discuss that people were treated so terribly because of their skin.
I really want to take the kids to the Freedom Museum in Cincy, ut don't want to tell Amani all about slavery yet. Jeff points out that slavery is NOT Amani's and Binny's heritage, but it is the history of hatred and oppression in our country. I do want to be the one to tell them, so I'd better do it.
When we do go to the museum, you guys should come with us! Stay at our place!

Jeff said...

Helen again.....
Do you celebrate Gotcha Day, Family Day, Adoption Day, or any form of this? Also, what date do you consider your "Adoption Day"?

頭痛 said...

人有兩眼一舌,是為了觀察倍於說話的緣故。 ..................................................

kristine said...

I really think this is way to young to be introducing MLK day in this manner. My husband who is African American agrees. It seems to us that whites focus on the negative starting way too young.

Up until this year (Q's seven) we have focused on the fact that MLK brought peace to the world by saying that only love and peace can bring peace, war never can. that was enough for him. there are wonderful books out there.

Ruby Bridges is a story that is way to harsh in our opinion to be brought in before second or third grade.

We don't talk about World War Two death camps when we talk about veteren's day or memorial day at that age.

Age appropriate is so important.