Friday, January 16, 2009

MLK Day Musings...from an 8 yr old's perspective

Poignant thoughts shared by Melting Pot Mom, Nona (and her son)....
what would you say?

"So it's that time of year again. Martin Luther King Day. This is the time where for at least two days, the kids come home with little activities and mini readings on the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks, segregation and so on....you know all in a day or two. But whatever... it is what it is.

THIS year, my quiet 8 year old comes home and asks me 1 simple question..."Mom, if I lived in the olden days...what water fountain would I have to drink out of...cuz I'm black,white, AND Mexican". So first after I picked up my jaw off the floor and regained focus from the tears of pride swealing in my eyes....I told him....lets talk about that this weekend. Mommy needs time to think about this very important and strong question. So my fellow melting pot moms, and parents of the universe....what would you say....."

5 comments:

Jeena said...

How introspective of your eight year old, first of all! I just had a similiar conversation with my almost 6 year old. I just told him that when people are even part black, most people consider them black. So firstly, I explained, how awful that just because of the color of someone's skin, they were treated differently (in our discussion, it was in regard to restaurants) AND secondly, how awful that the rest of a person's ethnic make-up was completely disregarded.
I went on to tell him that those people who did that to black people were absolutely wrong (and he asked if God and Jesus got mad at those mean people!) and that people like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped everyone to see that it was wrong, and that's why he was so very special to our country's history. He seemed satisfied with the conversation, but I'm sure there are plenty more questions like this in our future...

Angela said...

For our family, the question becomes quite nuanced...Despite being half black, our older son has more "caucasian" features (fine, straight hair, light eyes, fair complexion). People usually guess everything else BUT black when trying to guess his ethnicity. So my husband and I realized he may have been able to use the "Whites" fountain without getting flack (!). So how would I answer his question, as to which fountain would he have had to drink out of? Would it have been a moral, personal decision for him? Or would he have been too afraid of being "detected" or "found out" to even consider the "Whites" fountain? Would he have used it in his own quiet protest? Or would he have used the "Blacks" one only, in solidarity with his black side? Suddenly a simple question becomes quite complicated...

These are all questions he's much too young to answer now...but one day it will make for insightful conversation.

I'd love to learn from others whose ethnicity was not obvious during those days. How did they navigate in their daily life? Did they make one consistent choice, or did it vary depending upon the situation (i.e. they really had to pee, and there was no bathroom marked "Colored"). I know because of his family, my son's identity wouldn't have been such a "secret"...unless he was by himself, off to college...and then?

I am SO thankful my son lives in THESE times...while I'm sure he'll have a lot to grapple with, he will be in good company (all his melting pot friends and relatives!). And while he may go through different stages of self-exploration and self-identification (hopefully it won't be too painful for him), at least he will not have to live in fear because of Jim Crow (thank God!).

Keya said...

I would have to tell him he would be drinking at the "colored" water fountain. If you have one ounce of "color" in you then you are "colored.
I think for back in the day if you "passed" for white, there was no going back, you couldn't chose being white one day then being black another day. If they found out that you were lying you would get beaten possibly to death.
Thank God our children don't have to go thru that at all.

suzee said...

On the one hand, I like my kids to be oblivious to any race issues (because I was until about 8th grade), but on the other hand, it's nice to have these discussions. My kids are just amazed and so sad when they hear about the severity of racism in the past. They love to hear the stories about the brave people who fought against racism. Also though, it makes me kind of sad that it makes them start thinking about their own skin color, which is darker than mine (a color I was always jealous of as a kid/teen!)... I just want them to know that everyone is beautiful, no matter what skin color God gave them. How would I answer the question about the fountain -- I haven't a clue, and I'm just grateful that we don't have to worry about it now. And after we have Obama as president, I think that the issue will be even less of an issue... It's a new day! ;)

Karen said...

Our society is most comfortable when it is able to put people in a singular category (e.g. black, white, asian). No one it seems wants to present or hear a more complex answer to a question about ones race. Black's don't like the fact that Tiger Woods considers himself biracial so as not to deny his phillipino heritage. My sister told me she hopes my caucasion looking son doesn't try to pass when he's an adult and stays connected to his black heritage. I guess she's okay with him forgetting about his German roots. Sadly, I believe race will always be a part of the American experience. I would have told my son that people in this society consider you white if you look white and black if you look black. That back in the day a passing black person would have been able to use a white fountain as long as no one knew his family. I would have said that this was one of the darker periods of American history. My own paternal (African-American)Grandfather was denied meat by the grocer during the depression when there was rationing going on. He had to send my caucasion looking (Irish-cherokee)grandmother to the store and they sold her the meat. Image really was everything.