Jan 18, 2010

MLK Day in the Nosurf Household

Every year since I became an adult, I have found myself celebrating this holiday by taking time out of my day to watch this speech. I try to get my family to watch it, too, but they still have pretty short attention spans.

Loli asked me what it was, yesterday. And I explained to her that we celebrate Martin Luther King day because he was a man who did a lot to further the Civil Rights movement. I then explained to her what the civil rights movement was, in a few simple sentences.

I know that this is something we'll talk more about, as our children grow older and more able to comprehend the world around them. Today, in the wake of this post on FMH (great post, by the way, go read it if you have a minute), I was thinking to myself, what do I do to help my children understand prejudice, racial differences, and what it means to be who they are?

We deal with this on an almost weekly basis, just on a 2-8 year old level. Two of my children are Ethiopian-American (and they really are…. they have passports from both countries) and three are caucasian (or as I like to say, Swedish-English-Scottish-Portugese-American, though none of them have swedish, english, scottish, or portugese passports.)

So far, what that has meant to us was discussing color.

Why am I brown? Because you’re Ethiopian, and most people in Ethiopia are brown. There are brown people born in America, too, and other countries.

When I grow up, will I be a pink mama like you or a brown mama? You’ll be a beautiful brown mama. Will Loli and Jaws be pink mamas? Yes.

Look, I have pink on my fingernails and on my lips. That’s right, you do!

(And from one of my bio kids) mom, look at this brown spot on my skin. Will I turn brown? Probably not, you’ll probably stay pretty much pink your whole life.

I know this will continue and become more in-depth and serious as they grow up… I’ll have to teach them about why people are sometimes treated differently and how to deal with those situations. As I figure out how to discuss and help my children understand these things, I realize that I am more than a little bit grateful to have a very good reason to do so. Having both black and white children will make it important to address this in my home. I'm not sure I would be addressing it at all (would I think of it? Would it be too akward and abrupt to bring up? Would I feel like it was introducing uneccessary "ugliness" into my childrens' world to be bringing up things like slavery, race-related discrimination and some of the other things that have happened all over the world) if it weren't for the fact that we already have an ongoing discussion... our discussion of this subject will never really stop.

According to the article cited in the above link to the post on FMH, the worst thing a parent can do is not discuss race. Children automatically form prejudices and ideas of "good" and "evil," "like me" and "not like me" based on obvious physical differences... whether those differences are related to gender, color, or even a group that some adult puts them into. And so to *not* be talking about these things leaves it up to our children to assume what they will. And often what they assume is not something we'd want them to assume.

The post above compares discusssions of race to discussions of sex... kids feel the akwardness of the "not talking about it" and assume it's a taboo subject. And so they don't ask questions, they get embarrassed the one or two times their parents bring it up, and they find out their information from peers and books they read and what they see on the TV screen.

I'm grateful that I've been given a situation where it isn't possible to ignore race, or to not discuss it... because I think, in a different situation, I might have avoided such discussions. It feels uncomfortable, unecessary, difficult... until you talk to kids themselves and realize that it's not that big a deal, if you just talk about it, tell them the truth... listen to them and respond to their real concerns.

Anyway, today's a great day to be thinking about these things, and I'm glad we have this holiday as a reminder and a way to start these important conversations.


michele said...

As usual, what a great post! I really admire what you're doing with your family and the things that are important to you guys.

In Atlanta MLK day is HUGE (he was born here), and John and I attended the yearly service given in his honor yesterday. It was amazing to see thousands of people gathered to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and how important his influence has been in America and around the world. (And to hear Cornel West give an amazing speech!)

It wasn't until I moved to the south that I even became aware of racial issues! Before, I never had the opportunity to be or not to be racist because my contact with people not of my own race was so limited. And just like you said, no one really talked about it at school, or anywhere. Once I moved down here I finally started to understand racial differences and equalities by having constant daily exposure to them.

So I'm glad that you are addressing the issue in your own family. That's the best way to do it!!

Camilla said...

Very interesting subject- not something I realized was a potentially blind spot for me. Just like you and FMH stated, it would be easy to just assume kids can figure this sensitive subject out all by themselves. Definitely requires some further thought on my part.

Putz said...

you had better not let rush limbaugh ha ha see this post..he thinks the people in haiti brought the current crisis on them selfs , i wonder what he would think of kids with oooooh brown patches of skin???????let me know {i guess after the birth} when all of youses get sealed together,, i want in

Putz said...

if there is room

NoSurfGirl said...


there might be room. But I'd have to know you're a real person forsure first...