I never made a deliberate choice not to discuss Martin Luther King with my kids. It was something where over time, whenever the occasion would arise, I just wouldn’t go there. I can think of a lot of reasons to explain everything to them, but I’m just not ready and honestly, until recently, I don’t feel my kids are ready either. It isn’t that I never want them to know, of course I want them to know, and I did try to explain it to my son when he was 5 or 6 and he just didn’t get it. He was oblivious, as he should be at that age.
I’m not naïve to think they haven’t heard about it in school, or will hear about it in the classroom. But that’s different. That’s not as detailed as I envision myself explaining what happened back then. Dr. King was killed because he was black and he was trying to bring about change. There’s no other way to put it. He was fighting for equality that blacks weren’t allowed. Because my kids are black makes it more personal for me.
I still remember when I learned about race and the Civil Rights Movement, and for me it changed the way I looked at myself.
Why were those people hurt for being black? Why was Dr. King killed? Because he was black? What’s wrong with being black? Am I not good enough? Do people not like me because I’m black?
I felt suspicious of everyone who wasn’t black. I felt like I was being secretly judged or hated because of my skin color. And I have been. I’ve been called the most offensive name associated with my race, more than once actually. All these things … they tie in together. I can’t explain Dr. King without explaining race and prejudice.
Last year, my son came home and waited two days to come into our room and whisper to us that his classmate said she doesn’t like black people. Then he said, “But that’s wrong mom. We’re black people.”
Do you have any idea what that’s like? Things like that can change a person. They can surely change a child.
I’m terrified of my kids feeling the insecurity that being black can bring. I’m scared of them harboring any kind of self-hate. I’m scared of them learning everything that lead to Dr. King’s mission before they’re ready and crushing their spirits.
Martin Luther King has an amazing legacy and he moved mountains, but again, I cannot explain the work he did without explaining the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks and the 16th street bombing. There was lot that went on that I do want to tell my kids, but it’s like this … they have their whole lives to know they’ll be treated differently because they’re black. I don’t want to put that in their head now.
But I will. When I decide the time is right.