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.