In honor of MLK Day, another mom on this blog wrote a piece titled Why I Don’t Talk To My Black Kids About Martin Luther King. She states she doesn’t want to teach them about his life because she couldn’t omit the details on his death. She didn’t want them to feel shame in their skin tone, which she stated she struggled with in dealing with her first experience with learning about civil rights and racism as a child. While I respect other’s parenting choices, and think she should raise her children as she deems fit, we choose a different approach for my family. Listed below are some reasons why I teach my (black) son about racism and Dr. King.
Because I want him to have a strong foundation.
The “race” talk is like the “sex” talk. You want them to get the most accurate information possible, from the start. Providing children with a proper internal narrative is a great coping mechanism. Shame breeds in secret and denial. It’s okay to feel sad, scared, or angry. It’s a normal part of journeying on the path of life. I am trying to establish from the start that it’s okay to have questions, and he is free to ask anything, any time. I can not prevent the hurt, but will try and guide him in the direction that healing will be found.
Because I don’t want him to feel alone.
Remember the first time you felt the effects of racism? The feeling of the world being against you? For learning that many think you are “less than” for no good reason? Of wanting to shout to the world that you are a good person, that this is unfair? The frustration? I don’t want him to feel like he doesn’t have anyone to listen to his tears, to ease the sting with a hug.
Because it starts early.
Schools in SC are breeding grounds for racial tension. Even in 4k, my son came home asking why a classmate wouldn’t play with him because he is “brown.”
Because you never know when they’ll encounter it.
We were at a technology fair for K-12, and in the very first exhibit was a video clip from the of a librarian calling the police on a little black 9-year-old boy trying to check out books. The boy later became an influential engineer in aerodynamics. An important and influential story to be sure, even though it was filmed in 1960s South Carolina. As we walked off from the booth, my kindergartener grasped my hand and whispered with fear in his voice, “Mama, there’s a lot of white people here. Will they call the cops on us for wanting to learn?”
Because I want him to be prepared.
It’s gentler on his spirit to learn it calmly from a trusted loved one than potentially from a bully at school. Forewarned is forearmed when it comes to protecting their self esteem.
Because I want him to feel secure in his identity.
Having a solid identity is inspiration and protection. Learning your own identify and where they fit in the universe is a process that begins as soon as the newborn takes their first breath.
Because I didn’t have a choice.
It’s not the most noble reason, but true. Trust me, I wanted to keep my child as innocent for as long as possible. I wish I could keep him in a protective vacuum, but the world decided otherwise. When a hate crime recently occured to a loved one ending in death, I had to explain it to him. The toughest thing was trying to be “age appropriate,” because there is no age that is good for comprehending senseless violence.
Because the lessons of racial tolerance from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech benefits everyone, regardless of race.
The concept of respecting each other, no matter our appearance, is a crucial to the future of our nation. Of any nation. It’s true what they say, the only way to avoid history’s mistakes is to learn from it. This is a lesson I want him to learn at an early age, so he’ll never remember a time not knowing this.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Because Dr. King is a hero.
Dr. King didn’t have it easy. He was denied opportunites, taunted, jailed, and killed. Despite having strong suspicions on how his life would end, despite the hate he endured for merely being born — he responded in love and forgiveness. He influenced millions of others, worldwide over a span of decades, to change the world to a better place using peace and nonviolence. No one could defeat his spirit. He gave the world something that death couldn’t take away. Jesus taught us the most important lesson is loving something greater than ourselves and loving others. Dr. King did his best to embody this. This goes beyond our short lives on Earth. Again, this is a lesson best learned from the beginning of a child’s life.