In my lunch time travels yesterday, I came across the above graffito spray painted across someone’s garage. When I shared it with the family later, Viva said: “Los Angeles? I don’t think so. I think probably Birmingham.”
Whew, Black History Month, you are kicking my ass. You are giving my baby headaches, and stomach aches, and nausea, and trembly legs. You are interrupting her sleep. For it appears that in 4th grade, the gloves have come off, and the reality of slavery is being presented to my child in class.
(“Not the worst parts though,” she says. “Mr. B____ skips over the really bad parts.”)
They covered the Civil Rights Movement earlier, and that, she could get behind – of course, it is empowering to hear about taking a stand and forcing a change – but slavery knocked her down. My kid is super-sensitive to violence of any kind and she is also hyper-vigilant to any kind of injustice, so learning about the details of the slave trade literally makes her ill. We talked about the Middle Passage yesterday, and of how mind-bogglingly inhumane it must have been, beyond what we can imagine.
“I hate history,” Viva said, her sweet eyes clouded. “Why do we have to learn history?”
“Because those that don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it*,” I said. “And because it still influences who you are today. You are descended from slaves. Do you realize how strong your ancestors had to be, physically and emotionally, spiritually – to survive that? That blood is in your veins.”
“That’s true. But still, I can’t wait until this month is over,” Viva said.
“It’s not easy,” I said. “I know, it’s tough.”
“I still can’t understand how people could be so mean to other people just based on the color of their skin – how they thought we were inferior,” Viva said. “I mean, they thought slaves were stupid, but how would they do if they got stolen away from their families and taken somewhere they didn’t speak the language?”
“They had to think that way to justify it,” I said. “They had to see slaves as animals, as less than human, to justify what they were doing to them.”
“That’s messed up,” said Viva. “Especially because you take someone like Frederick Douglass – he was a slave, and he was super smart. When his master found out that the master’s wife was teaching him to read, he got beaten. Who does that?!”
“You see what they were willing to go through to get an education?” I said. “It was a big deal just to be able to read and write. Slaves weren’t supposed to be educated. We are really lucky to live in the age we do, as far as that goes.”
"Yeah, I see what you mean. If they could see what we know now, it would blow their minds,” Viva said.
Yes, indeed. I honestly love these conversations as Viva begins to see the world in all its messy complications. I think it is important for her to learn the journey of this country and how it is part of a larger global journey and that our struggles with bias and prejudice are far from over, here and across the world.
I love that girl. What an honor to be along for the ride.
* Which I knew I was paraphrasing, but naturally I mis-quoted. What George Santayana wrote (in The Life of Reason, 1905) was: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” On par with, “You can’t understand where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”