Thalia and I were riding the subway this week when she confessed with disappointment that they didn’t get to have Share Time in class. I asked her why not.”
“Because we were not paying attention when Mrs. M was reading us a book. It was boring.”
“And what was the book?” I asked.
“It was about Kwanzaa.”
“Oh!” I said, now uncomfortably aware of ours being the only white faces on the C Train. “Well maybe I should get you a book about Kwanzaa that you will actually enjoy. I think you’d really like to learn about it. It’s about family, and creativity, and love, and all the things you like.
Did you learn anything at all about it?”
She paused for a moment and considered this.
“Well,” she said, “I think it’s a holiday that people with brown skin celebrate.”
Once again I gulped and explained a little about African culture while looking around the subway car and preparing for narrow-eyed glares. But none came. Because she was right. It is a holiday that people with brown skin celebrate.
And of course all along I was praying that this conversation wouldn’t end up with her blurting out some racially insensitive equivalent of MOMMY WHY IS THAT MAN SO FAT?
Which, of course, she didn’t.
But you know. Five year-olds. Unpredictable.
Only the day before, I was grabbing a bialy (I’ll have you know that bialies are God’s carb) from the deli in our office lobby. The clerk, an Indian gentleman, called to the African-American security guard outside the doorway, do you want your bagel toasted my color or your color?
They both had a good laugh and I thought that was kind of great in every way.
I tweeted it, and @thmazing on Twitter offered a lovely response: Once we abandon fear of being seen as racist, a whole new world opens up.
We haven’t quite started talking about race with the kids yet. We acknowledge that there are different skin colors the same way there are different hair colors and they are all beautiful. We talk about how some skin color can give you some cues about where the person’s family might have come from. But we’ve mostly stopped there. My girls are growing up in a world of multiracial friends and neighbors and cousins and of course, White House denizens. Skin color differences–at least now–are simply not surprising or interesting to them.
Which is awesome.
I’m inclined to keep up that wonderfully innocent colorblindness as long as we can. But the end is nearing. I have to figure out the next conversation–if I can somehow intuit the next question from their mouths.
How do you talk to your kids about race?