My oldest was given a nickname by the school librarian: the Biography King.
It’s pretty much all he checks out from the library. And one particular person caught his interest last year and he read several biographies about the same person(I think it was because he liked reading about another male Jackie, when he’s usually the only one he knows): Jackie Robinson.
So when 42 came out last spring, my son wanted to see it.
I was a bit wary because it was rated PG-13 and my Jackie is only 8.
Plus I figured he would have questions and I’d rather be able to address those questions in the moment(easier at home with a pause button than in a crowded theater).
And to be honest, I didn’t really want to have those conversations yet: my kids are well aware that not everyone looks like them- that the world is full of different people. But to them, the color of someone’s skin doesn’t mean anything more significant than if someone has different hair color than they do. I can remember thinking like that, too. And when I was first exposed to the idea that not everyone thought that way.
I was around 5 years old.
Playing on the playground right next to the basketball court where my dad was playing ball with some friends.
Swinging and sliding and digging in the sand with another little girl who was about my age, happy to have someone to play with.
When we were leaving, my dad told me how proud he was of me.
How his little girl didn’t notice skin color and would play with anyone, including with a black girl.
That I didn’t care about race and how great that was.
But my basic understanding of the world was rocked right then.
Of course I’d noticed that the little girl looked different than I did.
But that she had different color skin than me didn’t mean anything more to me than if I’d been playing with someone who had different eye color or hair color than me. Yet no one had ever said anything to me about being proud of me for playing with someone who had blue eyes instead of brown ones like mine. Or who had red hair instead of brown.
So my father’s reaction taught me that unlike other differences, skin color was something that people noticed. That some people judged. That some people stayed away from.
I didn’t understand why.
But, rather than teaching me that it was good to accept differences, his reaction made me aware that differences even existed in the first place. I’m certain that wasn’t his intention, but it’s how my pre-kindergarten self took it.
A memory strong enough to have lasted over 30 years.
I’ve kept this in mind with my own children.
Though we’ve talked about how people can look different, we just focus on how people are unique, not really talking about race or making the color of someone’s skin be an issue: just acceptance of differences, whatever they may be.
But since my oldest asked repeatedly, we rented 42 and started to watch together.
We didn’t get all that far before he told me, “Mom, those people are just being stupid bullies to Jackie Robinson and I don’t want to watch them any more.”
And I let that be the end of that.
Maybe it’s a naïve view, for me to think that this isn’t an in-depth conversation I need to have with my boys, but for now, I’m happy with my son’s instant dismissal of anyone who would judge someone else for the color of their skin.
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