We shall overcome

I mentioned a few days ago on the Scooping it Up FB page, inspired by the faces on US money, the kids and I recently talked about slavery, about Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War. Not comfortable topics. Sure, there was no slave trade from Ethiopia, it isn't apart of that country's history at all, and thus this whole slavery business was horrifying news to them, but it does open up a can of worms. It wasn't their people who were taken. It wasn't their forefathers who had their families destroyed. But it still strikes a fearful chord.

This is something we white people have a hard time comprehending I think: when the people who were kidnapped, killed and kept captive until they were dead never to return to their homes, losing culture, language, family, dignity, community and humanity, were done so because they were of darker skin color and seen as "less than human" this makes slavery personal. It hits a little close to home. It doesn't matter that it didn't happen to my brown kids, or their grandparents. The fact is, it could have.

The girls didn't like what they heard but accepted. They heard about the war, the Emancipation and they sighed with relief, confident that chapter of the world was closed. At least it ended. Bad stuff happened but at least someone did something about it and the bad stuff stopped. Mimi literally said "whew!"

We know that's not true though. Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day. If I am going to teach about who he is, and why we celebrate him, I must then also teach that for years and years and years after slaves were set free, white people in the US still treated brown people with indignity and ugliness. That it wasn't even close to being "over" after the Civil War. And because he tried to do something about it, people killed him. It is just all so terrible. We honor this day, this man, because of how very long the struggle for equality has taken. It is embarrassing and shameful as a society.  And if I am to be honest, I can't say But don't worry girls, NOW it's totally over. Everyone knows now that skin color doesn't matter and that we are all equal in the sight of God. That would be a lie. This topic opens up a door, one I am afraid of, to tell them after living in the US - land of freedom- for a measly four months, People may not like you because of the way God made you. Because you are brown.  

They will trust me, like me, feel more comfortable around me because I am pasty. This flawed, freckled, rashy skin is still considered superior by some people. No one will ever pull me over in a car and make me get out and frisk me because I am white. No one will ever cross the street to not walk near me because they are afraid of me based on my skin color.  No one will ever follow me in a store because they think I am stealing something because I am white. No one will assume I am breaking into my own house because I am white. I will never be expected to change my hair because it's natural state isn't 'neat or professional' because I am white. There are no hate groups dedicated to killing me. No one will reference ugly n-words or lynching or burning crosses in reference to me just to be mean. No one will guess that I got into college or had a good career because of affirmative action. No one will be surprised when I succeed because I they didn't expect me to do well based on my skin color. No one will make fun of my skin, my lips, my hair. No one will assume I am an addict or a negligent mother based on my skin color. It's not going to happen. But my loves, it will happen to you.
I am so grateful to him, and his family. I am proud that his dream has come true - well, is still coming true. I just don't like how long has taken. I am grateful for his dedication and mission so that my little white and black girls and boys that can hold hands together and sing and laugh and kiss and tickle and be family. We could never be here without Dr. King.

But I don't know if I am ready for this discussion. Mimi isn't a dummy. And Fikir is already sensitive about being brown. But skimming it and making it pretty isn't really easy to do and it may not be right, either. Yeah, that is my struggle in this moment. Is it wrong to "skip" MLK Jr day this year?

In a twist of fate, Hubs just walked in and said "Hey, I told Mimi about MLK day tomorrow." I gulped. OMG what did he say???

The funny thing about my fears and hesitation is, I've already blogged about this about my other kids. I broke the ugly news of the Civil Rights Movement to Samantha and Cookie long ago. But sharing it with the children that Civil Rights worked for? It feels like a different ball of wax. It feels harder.  How do you teach about Dr. King and Civil Rights to your children? Does it feel different teaching it to children of color versus white kids? Am I completely insane?

*PS. I wrote this at 3am. Now it is after 3pm. We didn't talk much about MKL Jr today. I didn't have the guts. But we did watch the presidential inauguration  I don't agree with President Obama on some issues. But his face, his wife, his children, the camera focusing in on way more brown people than they normally would have (in my opinion) gave me relief today. My children, on a day I stressed about greatly, saw positivism.  They saw something that Dr. King would have wept to see. The most important leader in this country looks like my kids. Today, I didn't care about political platforms. I felt relief that they could see that.

And at dinner time I might get brave enough to show them this sacred piece of history.

PPS. Incidentally, all Hubs told Mimi about today was that he didn't have to go into work in the morning because we are honoring a good guy who wanted people to all be treated well no matter what they looked like. Welcome to my over-analyzing brain and the Hubs that has to deal with it. It takes both kinds, people. It takes both kinds.


Leah said...

I do think it's different teaching this to our white children than our non white children. (although neither of my children are really white, that is my take anyway) Because like you said, black people have to deal with things that the white privileged people will NEVER have to deal with. Ever. And it's great that Ethiopia wasn't part of the slave trade, but their color has come into play. Half my family lives in Egypt, and I quickly learned that white people don't own racism. Egyptians were very racist of Ethiopians because of how dark they are. Racism is everywhere. So much of history will be hard to teach. Abraham Lincoln is supposedly a hero for the African American community, but he also mandated the killing of many many native americans. It's all complex and I'm lucky I have a few more years to talk about all of this.

Eleanor said...

I have so many, many thoughts on race running through my head these days. I really don't know where to start. We live in such a non-diverse area, and I'm starting to see that affect my boys in big and little ways, good and bad ways. *sigh* always sigh.