Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Give Them Enough

Act #23:  Set a different tone for your kids.

On MLK day, my 5-year old and I watched a short children's piece about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Using animated figures, in simple, child-friendly language, the film began by talking about a little boy who couldn't play with the other kids because his skin was too black, and it ended with his powerful "I Have a Dream" speech at the capital.  When the film was over, we sat in silence, something I learned to do as I allowed my son time to process what he had just seen.  I could literally see the wheels turning in his head and after about one minute, he turned to me and said, "Mama, is my skin black?"  Throughout my brief journey  with "parenting an inquisitive kindergartner", one of the best pieces of advice that was given to me was:  Only give them as much as they can handle.  You'd be surprised at how little information they really need or can process at this age.  I contemplated what might possibly be behind this simple, yet poignant question.  Was my son worried that the other kids might not play with him if his skin was black?  Had I exposed him to an ugly concept like racism too early in his innocent little life?  Was he hopeful that his skin wasn't black so that he wouldn't have to endure what the little boy in the film had? A million questions ran through my mind, and I wanted to be careful and honest in the tone I set that could quite possibly form his early views on race.  I finally took a deep breath and said, "Sweetie, we're not lucky enough to have skin that is as black as little Martin's, but your brown skin is just as beautiful."  I paused again, bracing myself for tough follow-up questions like "Why do people have different skin colors?" or "Why would kids not play with little Martin just because of the color of his skin?"  Instead, my son stared blankly at me and said, "Can I have a cinnamon roll for breakfast?"  Apparently my answer was just enough.  By saying that we were not "lucky" enough to have skin as black as little Martin's, I was hoping to instill in my son, a different standard of beauty, where dark skin was appreciated, sought after, revered.  God knows that the media, other kids, society will try to tell him differently over the course of his life.  By telling him that his brown skin was just as beautiful, I was hoping that he would come to see that there was beauty in  all shades and all colors.  That someday he would emerge from those unavoidable years of questioning his racial identity, and come to appreciate his heritage.

And that simple response was all that my son needed at his tender age, to begin to look through a world lens just as colorful and beautiful as the one that Dr. King looked through his entire life. 

No comments:

Post a Comment