I have lived in Texas my entire life. (I do have aspirations to live elsewhere.) Along with that, comes a bit of life lessons, such as:
- experiencing the largest rodeo in the world,
- participating in the largest state fair in the US,
- visiting one of the 8th wonders of the world several times,
- graduating from the second oldest institution in the state, and
- being called a NIGGER on the playground in 2nd grade in front of everyone
- being placed in lower level classes in a new elementary school and watching my mom fight daily for correct placement
- being the only brown child in class until my sophomore year in high school
- being asked by Mrs. Palmer (one of my favorite teachers that taught my favorite subject in my favorite class of peers) in front of the entire class, “Do Black people sun burn?”
- having a presentation stolen from me in front of a room of upper level management males
The list could go on but, the last five experiences built the most character for me. They helped form a bit of my personality and taught me the true meaning of using EXPERIENCE to my benefit. I removed the word HATE from my vocabulary as a result and have taught my children to to the same. As a matter of fact, it tickles me that the word HATE is a very bad word in our house..right up there with the other four word explicatives.
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People learn to hate, and if thy can learn to hate, they can be taught love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.~Nelson Mandela
The issue is that no matter how hard we try, we cannot shield our children from everything no matter their age. One evening, we were enjoying dinner conversations (my favorite time of the day) and the first grader was sharing what he learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. at school and the four year old heard him say, “Martin Luther King was a man that fought so that white people and black people could eat at restaurants, go to school and play together.” I was so excited that he had wrapped his brain around this concept, I almost missed the comment of the preschooler (partially because she talks non stop and I thought it was another rant). She chimed in on our conversation, “Perry said he doesn’t want black people at his house.” I just knew that Perry just didn’t like the color black and wasn’t talking about “black people”. He’s only 4. So for clarification, I asked, “What do black people look like?” And then she hit me with her best shot, “Perry said people that look like me and Melissa can’t come to his house to play because he doesn’t want black people at his house.” Well, she confirmed it. My little four year old just had her first life experience at her little church preschool. I was frozen inside and still needed to respond. My husband beat me to it and we will keep his response here in this house and pray my children forget it and never repeat it. I finally jumped in and redeemed my poor children, “Well, that’s not nice. If that happens again, you let Perry know that you don’t want to come to his house anyway, but he and everyone else is welcome at our house regardless of what color they are. Do you understand?” Everyone said yes and we moved on.
Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a 2-year old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”~Denis Leary
Needless to say, after starting the kids’ bedtime routine and chatting with my husband, I had to call my mother and fill her in on our lively discussion. It brought back that feeling on the playground in the second grade and I know this is only the beginning. Melissa was only in the class a couple of months and has moved and I know this will not be the last time my daughter has an encounter with racisim. I just naively assumed, we had more time. But, a lesson learned is a lesson learned.
*The names in this post have been changed.
Have your children had an experience that you thought would come later in life? How did you respond?