“Mommy, today we learned a story about how black people were taken from their homes. All of them would grow up to be big and strong and the people just kept telling them to ‘work hard, work hard’, but then a white man helped one of the black men and put him in a box and he got his freedom”.
At four and a half, the lad rarely recites the events of his day until we’re crawled into the bed, but this day, he couldn’t wait. We weren’t more than a minute out of the preschool drive way before he shared about how wrong it was that the little children got taken from their families and couldn’t leave.
And my heart beat.
With fear and trepidation, I knew it was my job to fill in the blanks from the classroom lesson. It was my responsibility to make sure he didn’t perch the “white man” up on a pedestal for their role. It was my duty to learn him verbiage and teach him diversity without color-blinding his sight or making him ashamed his pigment had a history. A history that wasn’t pretty.
In that moment, I totally wished I wasn’t a forty five year old privileged white woman. I wished for nothing short of a life line to help me try my hardest to ground him in the truth of the past while not ignoring the flight of our present. We have far more than boxes to ship. How could I explain that to him.
“I found that story you heard in school today! Wanna see?” The age of the internet made it easy to find the book I could have already had on a shelf if I’d planned accordingly. Alas. We sat on the big king bed and his eyes became wide with excitement pointing to the screen, “That’s Henry! That’s the story!”
We spent a good long time going through the narrative. We stopped and started and I asked him questions to see where his mind went. He said it was sad. And scary. And made him not like that people did that to each other. He wanted to know if that still happens today. If people were safe.
So what do you say? How do you tell your four year old that children are still taken away. How do you tell your child that from the womb to the grave, pigment still hurts people unfairly and unjustly but that we can hope, like Henry’s mommy did, that things will change. And we can work hard and work harder and keep working every single day to make sure no one is ever again hurt or enslaved. And that freedom will find its way.
I’m not sure. I tried. That’s all I can say.
And the lad has a new favorite hero in that illustrated picture book that stayed on his mind today. He has a little more of the world than he did yesterday. He has an education in how humans behave. He has a clearer understanding that my skin tone is a tad darker than his and that our eye colors are not the same. And that while black and white shouldn’t matter at all, we stand in a place of privilege. Something many can’t say.
And my heart beats.
And my heart breaks.
This piece published on Medium.