My daughter received a book about Martin Luther King for her birthday last year. She really took to it and sensed that something powerful lie within. I would read it to her, but skip many of the words. I was not ready to introduce the idea to her that people with brown skin, which is how she identifies, were/are treated less than because of that skin tone. Man, I need to write that again because writing it makes it so clear-so horrific- some people are treated less than because of their skin tone!!
I thought about a quote I had read by a black woman who said that her parents never spoke about discrimination and she said that she never expected that she could not do anything she wanted to, and so she did everything that she wanted to. I also think about hearing David Oyelowo talk about Harry Belafonte in a similar way, suggesting that because Harry grew up Jamaica from when he was 5-13 years old, living without racial oppression gave him a different attitude about what he could have and do.
I am not sure I want to go on, to write about such a heavy subject because I write this blog daily in about 15 minutes, a bit off the cuff, because I have a one year old and a five year old and not much time to research, crystallize, perfect, etc. This subject deserves more time, but I am going to continue and put myself out there, which is scary, so forgive me if I am tackling this subject matter imperfectly.
Anyway, I want to protect my girl from any concepts that might seep into her brain and limit her in any way. I want her to know that she is equal equal equal and can be or do anything. I do not want her to have any sense of limitation or inequality. I am not raising her colorblind. We talk about skin color and I expose her to many different cultures and support her heritage. I also want to always tell her the truth. Talking about skin color and race involves ALL of it, but for now I want to protect her from the ugly part of the world. I guess I just want to talk to her about race in a way that empowers her. I am not exactly sure how to do that. (Just writing this gives me a lot of ideas.)
Anyway, her preschool talked all about Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks and she knows the story and the way she tells it is that ”People with white skin could do anything and people with brown skin could not. I have brown skin.” She just turned 5. She is still a baby in so many ways. She pronounces Dr. King’s name as Marthin Lufer King and when she is excited he becomes MarthinLuferSkin.
So Dr. King is her hero and I have let her know that he is mine as well. She knows that Dr. King fought and was arrested and changed the world and died. She understands that people with skin like hers have suffered because of it. I am not sure that she knows that they still suffer.
The other day we were listening to Marvin Gaye. “Got to Give it Up” is a favorite of hers. She asked me if he is still alive. She asks me that question about many artists I expose her to because I listen to current and classic artists and she can tell from the sound or the look that some things are from another time and the young face on the sleeve may not still be alive, as is the case with other singers she likes, like Ritchie Valens.
When I told her that Marvin was not alive any longer she looked at me and visibly upset she said, “I do not like it that so many people with brown skin die.” She sensed into something that I was not telling her, that I do not want her to know, yet that is so current and relevant. I certainly did not mention the violent nature of Gaye’s premature death. I was not even thinking about it, but the way she spoke suggested that she knew about so very many things.
We will get to it all, from Jack Johnson, to the Panthers, Malcolm, and Angela, to revisiting Dr. King, to my hero Oprah, and everyone in between and after. She already knows about Obama, who she takes pride in and who she confuses at moments with the song La Bamaba and calls Obamba. School will be talking about Cesar Chavez next. Public school will be starting in September. My ability to protect her from the world gets smaller every day.
On a separate note, we will also be talking about all the struggles of women as well, and everyone from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to Gloria and all that follows.
I have my work cut out for me but I am up for it. I am blessed to have to keep educating myself in the race conversation so I can present it all to my dear dear girl.
In the moment of her being upset about the passing of another brown skinned person I held her empathetically and let her have her feelings then I said “Let’s listen to Stevie Wonder, he has brown skin and is alive and amazing.” We danced around to the first 4 songs on side b of Innervisions on vinyl, turning it off for dinner when “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” ended.