Somehow my children got a hold of buttons with pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. on them. Being their ego-centric selves, they first starting saying that their names were on them. This was at breakfast, and I missed part of the conversation as I was sweeping the floor. But I came across the conversation and determined I needed to put a stop to the mis-education being shared between the two of them.
Me: That doesn’t have either of your names on it. You know that.
Them: Well who is it?
Me: That’s Martin Luther King Jr.
I paused then, because my children were perfectly content to let it go at that. They didn’t feel the need to know *who* he was. But the moment presented itself, and I needed to take advantage of it. I had to be relevant, so I took an easy, admittedly not historically correct but somewhat relevant approach.
Me: You know what he did? He made it so children like you could go to school with children like Melissa*, Joseph Woo*, and Martin Chen*.
Them: *wide eye stares*
Me: I mean, black children like you can go to school with white children like Melissa and Asian children like Joseph and Martin.
Big A: Black! We’re not black. We’re brown!
O.M.freakin’.G. I thought we had this figured out at 4. He’s 5 and he’s telling me he’s not black.
Big A: And what’s Asian? Martin’s Asian? I want to be Asian like that? How do I do that?
In that moment, I felt like an utter failure. Utterly and completely. I’m a race scholar. Race and family. I school other people in talking to their kids about race. And my 5 year old just told me he isn’t black and he wants to be Asian. And Little A is just soaking it all in. I wish I had one of those zappers that erases memory to void her memory of this conversation.
Me: Yes, you are brown. That is the color of your skin. But we are black people. That is our race. You are black, so is Little A, me, Daddy, Nana, Papi, Auntie S…..(and a whole host of other people….)
…But by this time the attention span had run its course and I was talking to myself. Waffles and cheerios had taken over their brains and race, black, and Asian was last minutes’ news.
But I reminded myself that this race (no pun intended) is not for the quick. I’ve been concerned with other things the last few months, like writing my dissertation prospectus, that my crusade to have my children be comfortable talking about race has taken a backseat. This shook me out of my complacency. He’s going to kindergarten next year, where he will likely be one of one black children in a classroom. My baby will NOT be saying he wants to be Asian. Hell-to-the-no.
*not their real names.