Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Race and Politics

Now that I've finally gotten my computer back, and AT&T has decided to give us Internet access this week, I'm happy to be back here blogging! I had a nice break, and now I can hopefully post something nearly every day.

First of all, something big happened while I was on that break - we have ourselves (if you're in the US) a black president! I'm personally very excited and happy about this for several reasons, but that's not what this post is about. What I'm wondering is, how do you make your kids appreciate the beauty in President Obama's term(s) as president? How do you teach small kids how much race controls our country, and how much this president can do for us as a racist nation? But really, should you even bring up the subject at all?

Yesterday was the presidential inauguration, and Monday was Martin Luther King's birthday. Now, I can explain to my 5 year old why we're celebrating the inauguration without mentioning race, but how do you explain what Martin Luther King did for our country without bringing up race?

When Abby asked me why she didn't have school on Monday, I told her it was because it was Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday. She then (of course) asked me who that was, and if we were going to his party. I told her that he was a man who helped lots of people like other people, even though they were different. I felt like this sort of answered the question, but really left a lot unsaid.

The reason I wonder about this is simply because of a policy I have with my kids about race. I don't bring it up unless they do. I'm really interested in learning whether racism is inherited, learned, or innate. I feel like if I'm very, very careful to never point out race to my kids, then their ideas are truly their own.

And guess what? So far it looks like racism is not innate, because my kids don't notice that people are different colors. That makes me breathe easier - but isn't it scary at the same time? All this hate has been taught to us, just like math and reading?

The only time my kids have ever even hinted that they notice race is when Avery asked me in the bath tub what color he is. You see, he's very light skinned compared to Abby and Ethan. Avery takes after me in the skin department, and the other two take after Daniel. So, when Avery is in the tub with Abby and Ethan, he notices that his skin is lighter. Oh yeah - that and the fact that he is always slathered with sunblock while the other two are simply lightly coated. We usually say something like, "you get sunburned easier than Abby and Ethan."

And so, there was my little light skinned boy, taking a bath and asking me what color he is. I responded, "What color do you think you are?" He thought he was either yellow or grey. Abby told him he was skin colored, in one of those teen-agery "duh!" voices. Avery was satisified with this answer, and never asked again.

Abby has Barbies that are African American and Caucasian. She doesn't seem to notice a difference between any of the dolls. She just knows that her lone Bratz doll is somehow bad. She tells me that this doll is "mean to everyone." But that's another story...

And so I now wonder about race and my innocent little kids. What will they hear from TV and school about our new president? How often will they hear him called "Our first African American president!" - instead of simply, President Obama? Can I really ignore race in this case, when it seems to mean so much? Am I doing my kids a favor by not mentioning the importance of an African Amertican president, or a disservice?

Any opinions or advice on this subject?


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