Yesterday JP asked me why he wasn’t going to school, and I began to tell him that we, and everyone we knew, were celebrating the birthday of a very important person named Martin Luther King. JP loves birthdays, so he was curious when and if there was going to be a party, and would he be receiving a gift. I told him there wouldn’t be a party, that this birthday was a little different than the ones to which he usually was invited. King was dead, I told him, but he lived such an important and good life that even now, after he was long gone, we take time off from work and school to remember him.
I didn’t say much more than that, and I didn’t bring up race, which is a subject that hasn’t come up with JP before. He’s of mixed race, although I’m not entirely sure he knows it, nor do I know if he’s aware of black, white, and all the other clothes in between.
Not that I thought about it overly much, but it has never seemed important to me to explain bigotry or other unpleasant societal distinctions. I’m aware he’ll learn of them eventually, and I’m also aware that it’s better that he learns from me than from someone else. Yet it just felt like I would be disillusioning JP in some way if I were to sit him down and explain that people often hate each other due to the color of their skin, that his skin color was considered unusual and potentially hatable, and that this is something he was going to have moving around in his mind for the rest of his life.
But there’s also the counter-argument that I wasn’t doing justice to King’s legacy. He gave his life for these issues, and to keep JP unaware of them, while protecting him from the nasty reality of life, also denies the honor and inspiration of someone like King.
That said, if anyone out there has the slightest idea how to educate a four-year-old about bigotry, I’d like to hear it.