A few weeks ago my son, lover of bobblehead dolls, finally took notice of the one that has been sitting on our kitchen window ledge for the past 5 years. In between dinner bites he asked to look at it:
“Mom, can I see that toy?”
“Which toy, my love?”
“The one of the Black Man.”
I was stunned to silence. I had about so many emotions all at once. The bobblehead in question was one my husband and I picked up in Hawaii, while on our honeymoon, of President Barack Obama. This particular question, shortly after the inauguration, was timely and I was feeling extra sensitive about it.
The day after the election, just as after the many hate crimes that filled 2016, I saw many mothers expressing that their most important role in these coming months and years would be guiding their children down the right paths and learning from them as well because, as we all know, children aren’t born to hate, nor do they see color.
While I’ve always known this isn’t entirely true, seeing it realized in my home with my 2 year old was still a shock. For a moment I’d wondered if I’d done something wrong. While we certainly celebrated Black History Month, we also make sure to read books with historical Black figures and children of color year round. We make an effort to talk about different continents, countries, and ethnicities- making sure to point out differences from our own country/city/culture. Inevitably the why’s follows- he is a toddler, after all- and we are sure to explain that for each country/culture/city this is their norm, just like it is our own. The goal is to desensitize him to the “other” allowing him to acknowledge differences without objectifying it.
However that was always a long term goal. A “when he’s much older” goal. I didn’t expect to be discussing skin color so early but I should have known better. The idea that children don’t see skin tone is beyond foolish, considering one of the first things we teach our children along with learning their ABC’s and 123’s, is to acknowledge colors. From an early age we ask children to differentiate between red, blue, green, brown, black and white. It should come as no surprise when children describe a person by their skin tone, age, or gender, when we’ve been conditioning them for this from inception.
So I shook off those odd feelings and, ala Sheryl Sandberg, I leaned in.
We spoke about skin color. We spoke about race as something people made up to classify people easily, but in reality people with 2 totally different skin tones can be more genetically related than people of the same color. We spoke about the fact that Latinos aren’t a homogenous group of people, using our own family as examples. We made art, making sure to have many different skin tones available (unlike I had growing up), to draw people in our family. Most people came out blue and green, go figure.
More than anything, we read.
A book that was a particular favorite this past month was The Story Of Ruby Bridges. It documents the story of 6 year-old Ruby Bridges, one of the first children to go to an all-white school during Integration. When my son, overly empathetic by nature, asked me why little Ruby was verbally attacked by adults upon entering the school each morning, I didn’t hesitate to say that it was solely due to the color of her skin. I was grateful he didn’t ask any follow up questions because watching the look of confusion spread across his face and knowing his brain was trying to make sense of it was enough to leave me not wanting to continue the conversation.
I know a day will come when he will want to know more, and we’ll be ready to give him more then.
It’s work, to be sure. It is the work we will need to do to ensure that, at least from within our home, we are championing understanding and the power of embracing differences.
For us, it’s a start to help create the world we wish to see from inside our home. Championing and supporting orgs doing the work for the masses is also important to us, as is showing our son the spirit of fighting for others.
If you are interested in some great organizations doing the necessary work around our country, please visit their websites for ways you can get involved or to donate:
If there’s an organization close to your heart that I’ve missed, leave it in the comments and I’ll be sure to include it.