No question: My kids need to learn about racism in America. But when is the right time?
Let me explain. I’m white (Anglo-German), and I grew up in Ohio, where people were sort of absent-mindedly racist. Absent other races, that is: the town where I grew up was almost entirely white. There was no segregation there, of course; you couldn’t have done it. But I have my suspicions that people would have tried it out, given the chance.
Maybe the town was itself a kind of city-wide experiment in segregation. I don’t know.
But my kids have a very different experience. I’m raising them in the South, in the public schools. They have classmates, friends, buddies, of all races and every socio-economic status. (Except perhaps the filthy rich.) My youngest started using the term “brown” to describe some of his friends, with no connotations attached. To him, it was a descriptor like hair color, but a bit more noticeable. He was just as likely to describe a classmate as “crazy” (i.e. “goofy,” fun).
To paraphrase Dr. King, my boys judge their peers on the content of their character, and not the color of their skin.
When you watch basketball in my house, and you hear my boys cheering for the “white guys,” they mean the home team. If one team happens to have black jerseys, well, they’re the ‘black guys.”
That kind of innocence, like sexual naivete, will eventually have to end. It just will. But the question is when.
On Monday I shared with them a story about a man who, in the 1960s, had left our town because he was getting threats from the KKK. A white professor, he had made too many black friends. I told the story gently, a bit hesitantly. And they watched me with uncomprehending eyes. “What kind of weirdness is that?” you could almost hear them thinking. “Those days were weird, Dad.”
They didn’t say anything, though. And I think I’m all right with that. I don’t mind if they cling to that innocence for another year. Maybe Dr. King’s dream can take deeper root this way.