Black History Month — and Me
Posters pressed to the large windows at Barnes & Noble reminded me that it is Black History Month. Now that I have a kindergartner for whom I’m responsible, what has been a good thing in years past now strikes me as an opportunity.
My son is blond, blue-eyed, and, like his mama, talks like a Yankee (except when imitating Mater from “Cars”). But with Dr. King’s birthday last month, I had a motherly “aha!” moment; this is a chance to instill some compassion and understanding in my son of the people he’ll meet who are different from him, as well as pass along a lesson I learned in college.
I remember a particular October Sunday in Chicago when faculty from my university had arranged the opportunity for a vulnerable, authentic conversation on the topic of race. A number of revelations left footprints on my brain from that afternoon. Among them, I realized a misconception I had held. When I’d seen an African American friend, I’d seen him or her as “just like me.” But from our discussions that afternoon, I realized my error. Overcoming racism doesn’t just assume equality. It requires understanding that often, because my friends are black, they have had to overcome things I have not.
Yes, gratefully the civil rights movement rocked our world here in the South. For example, my son doesn’t quite understand why people ”treated people with brown skin mean.” But even those African Americans who spoke on that Sunday afternoon who were from the North (where I grew up) recalled ways that their skin color had altered their reality with law enforcement officers, teachers, store clerks, and parents of a potential date.
Later, for a senior term paper, I interviewed African American students on my campus. Yep, each of them had been the object of callous, rather ignorant remarks or snubbing. And this was in 2002.
So as I contemplate Black History Month and what effect it will have on my young son, I want him to understand that the kids next door and his “adopted” aunt are created specially by God. But I also want him to learn a lesson in compassion and to understand what people who don’t look like him have endured — and are still enduring. So we’re going to check out some books from the library and snuggle up for a history lesson on some great role models: for starters, the courage of Rosa Parks. The perseverance of Dr. King. The ingenuity of George Washington Carver. The leadership of Booker Washington. The bravery of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.
I’m sure we’ll both have something to learn.