Monday, January 21, 2008

Do the Right Thing

That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mama B: So do you know why today is a holiday?
Viva: Mmmm…no.
Mama B: We’re celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday.
Viva: Oh, yeah. They’re having a parade.
Mama B: Yes, there’ll be a couple of parades today –
Viva: They’re having one at my school.
Mama B: Really? Where? Inside the school, on the yard?
Viva: Yeah. And, what’s his name again?
Mama B: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [realizing it’s a bit of a mouthful] Dr. King.
Viva: Yeah, he’s gonna be there. He’s gonna lead the parade.
Mama B: What? But he’s dead, baby.
Viva: WHAT?
Mama B: [glossing over the assassination] Um, yeah, he died, honey. A long time ago.
Viva: Oh.
Mama B: Would you like to see a parade today?
Viva: [shrugs]

Fifteen minutes later, on the phone with the African-American Museum – assuming they’ll just have a recording explaining what’s happening today. But no, an actual person answers.

Mama B: Oh, um, yes, I was just wondering what the museum has planned for Dr. King’s birthday today.
Museum person: [pause] Well, I think we’re having cake at 1 o’clock.
Mama B: Ooohkay. Well, okay, thanks.

Fifteen minutes later, saved by the bell, or rather, the cell phone. Viva’s best friend’s mom calls and says they can come over for a play date. Phew.

And further discussion of Dr. King is tabled for the moment. Trying to explain the civil rights movement to a 4-year-old, without freaking her out or hurting her feelings, makes my brain hurt. I feel like I end up saying a whole lot of nothing.

My friend S. once had a talk with her daughter’s teacher wherein the (not African-American) teacher expressed concern about how “sensitive” her daughter was. Apparently the teacher was discussing African-American history and noted that “A. gets very upset when we talk about slavery.”

S responded, “Well, maybe that’s because it’s upsetting!”

Viva, like many kids her age, gets pretty pissed off when she is not treated the same. The way I tried to explain who Dr. King was, was to say that he worked very hard to make sure everybody got treated fairly. Her little brow furrowed, and she said, “Well if people weren’t being fair, he should have called the police.” I thought for a quick second and then said, “But the police weren’t being fair, either. That was part of the problem.”

My main problem is that I am a wimp. I don’t want to introduce the idea to her that people who look like her were (and hello, are) treated unfairly, simply because they were/are brown. I just don’t want to be the one to break her heart like that. I know, I know, she will find out eventually. This is one of those hard life lessons. Any tips from those of you who have been there?

Updated to add: I found a link for a kindergarten lesson plan to teach kids about Dr. King. I think the books listed, along with the activities, will help going forward.


Mango Mama said...

Mama, So sad to say that I have been there a few times with my oldest, Olivia, and all I can offer is to provide the information and support as plainly as possible. I think you did a wonderful job with the MLK background. With my brown babies, I've found the most difficult are those when they've experienced the bigotry firsthand. I'm most interested in how they feel about the situation and I work hard not to project my own issues/baggage onto to them. I'm also working on teaching them that it's o.k. not to be liked by everyone. I encourage them to move on and seek out more like minded folks.

Lisa Blah Blah said...

Mango Mama - Thanks for writing. I feel lucky that we have not yet had to deal with any overt bigotry as it relates to Viva. It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on it with your kids. I found a pretty good link with a lesson plan on teaching very young kids about MLK, which I will add to the post, but in case you don't see it, here it is:

I may do some of the activities with her anyway, even if it is belated...

Mango Mama said...

thanks so much for the link, I'll check it out.

Lisa Blah Blah said...

I live to serve. :-)