Have you ever talked to a child about race and skin color? Me neither. Well, not until my [then] 4-year-old first took note that daddy was darker than mommy, and that some kids had parents that “matched.” He used to tell me he wanted my blue eyes and golden hair and I would tell him that I wanted his brown curls and beautiful skin. He loved [and still does] to color our family, using the peach crayon for me, the brown crayon [pressing lightly] for himself and his baby brother, and again the brown crayon [pressing harder] for daddy. There is nothing odd, or out of place. This is simply, his family.
We have never addressed the topics of slavery or the mistreatment of African Americans as a part of our history in our household. We will in time. We have never addressed racial segregation or inequalities due to skin color. He may start asking now that he is six. We have never made a big deal about race in our household or talked about a time when interracial relationships were illegal; mainly because our relationships have everything to do with love and nothing to do with race.
We have, however, steadfastly agreed on one thing from the start: the only limitations are the ones you put on yourself. This is why we have never discussed these defining moments in our nation’s history with our son. Not because they are not important, but because Dr. King dreamed of a nation in which “…children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” To tell our son that some people in this world will never see him as their equal just because he is not like them, or that some people will judge him before ever getting to know him based purely on his [beautiful] brown skin… well, it’s just not a thought we ever wanted him to consider or to see as an obstacle getting in the way of his dreams. Kids do not know hate and racism; they are taught by adults.
When an issue is experienced third-hand, meaning it isn’t something that directly affects your life, you tend to sympathize with people, but rarely can one empathize. I would read books, watch movies, hear stories about all the injustices and think “...wow, that’s awful. How can people treat one another this way?” But it didn’t truly strike home… yet.
Meeting my son’s father over a decade ago has given me incredible insight into a world far different than mine. Our backgrounds are as diverse as a couple's can be and we seldom agree on… well, anything. He is a democrat, I am a republican. We grew up in different regions of the country, in different socio-economic classes, with different family situations, and perhaps most notably, as different races. But we were crazy about each other (still are… though sometimes we are just crazy). STILL, civil rights meant little to me, which I hate to even admit. I didn’t even know that just shy of 50 years ago, he and I wouldn’t have even been allowed to date, let alone get married.
In 2010, and again in 2016, we welcomed two amazing little boys into this world, and that’s when all this talk of Civil Rights suddenly meant a hell of a lot more to me. Suddenly Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech took on a new meaning. “I have a dream that one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” I think of this often when my son talks about his best friends and when I think about my own relationship.
It matters to me now because without the fearless work of one amazing man, my son’s father wouldn’t be able to work at a company and make a fair living to provide for his family. Without Dr. King's tireless feats, my boys wouldn’t be able to attend a grade school alongside their peers and be treated as equals. Without his daring efforts, my six-year-old wouldn’t be able to go to his best friend’s birthday parties, or play on the same football team as his buddies. Without the work of one courageous man, my sons’ father and I would never be able to walk freely and happily in public places without fear of retribution. Without the heroic work of Dr. King, I wouldn’t have my family.
For those who have never suffered extreme social injustices, or find it difficult to relate Civil Rights to their own lives, just imagine: a world where your favorite musicians are silenced, a world where amazing athletes are not allowed to participate, a world where hospitals are without the critical doctors and nurses needed to save lives, a world where churches are without ministers, a world full of classrooms without teachers, and a world where your child may be without his/her best friend. I challenge you to take a moment to reflect on all that Dr. Martin Luther King has done for this country. Consider how bold, how selfless, how brave just ONE man was, and the powerful impact that just ONE man was able to make on an entire nation, all because he had a dream.
So yes, now I get it. And when my sons ask about the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Day, I can tell them to look no further than themselves. Because of him, they are here.
[From the eyes of my 6-year-old]
What does Civil Rights Day mean to you?
“It means we all need to be respectful and get along. Well, we should every day, but for sure on this day.”
Who was Martin Luther King Jr.?
“He was a dark man, like my daddy. He was kind of like a super hero guy. He fought against the bad guys... not like hand fighting though, he used words and talked to people.”
Do you know why he was so important?
“Because he wanted everyone to be nice to each other.”