I Thought I Had a Few More Years

Wednesday is Library Day for Oliver’s class. The kids are allowed to take one book home and keep it for the week. We’ve been pushing Oliver to choose something other than football or baseball books, mostly because we want him to branch out but also because my eyes glaze over a bit when the finer points of playing left tackle are discussed, ad nauseum. He’s FOUR, for goodness sakes!

Last week’s book was about lions so I knew he would be back to sports today. I was really happy to find Coming Home in his backpack. It is the story of Josh Gibson, a player for the Homestead Grays in the Negro League. He got a Grays cap at a Pirates game last year and we go over the Homestead Grays bridge somewhat regularly, so he’s heard the name before. It didn’t dawn on me that we were headed for a conversation I wasn’t really ready to have.

Then, right there on the first facing pages, drawings based on team photos of the Yankees and the Grays. I asked him if he spotted what was different about the two teams. He didn’t answer but the look on his face told me he knew. I read the book’s explanation of segregation. It was simple and good, but I knew I needed to rephrase it a few different ways before he would take it in.

Here are a few of the things I said:

A long time ago things were separate and people thought that was the right thing to do. We know better now. We know that what’s on the inside matters, not what’s on the outside, the color of someone’s skin.

Or something along those lines.

I could see his gears turning. His best buddy at school is African-American. I jumped in where I really didn’t want to go. “You and Evan probably wouldn’t have been friends back then.” He got it. At least he seemed to. This is one of those topics he’ll process for days and only snippets of what he’s thinking will emerge in our conversations.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think segregation would be a topic of conversation when he was this little. I would have much rather had the Nuts Talk.

Have you had to tackle this issue? I’d love to know what you did and how it worked.

  • http://westofmars.com/blog Susan West of Mars

    Actually, I had the opposite problem this year. My son had to do a report on a famous person for Black History Month. He had a hard time seeing why it was worth talking about the first Black man to reach the North Pole; to him, the bigger accomplishment was that the guy came from a broken home and a not-terribly-affluent upbringing and found a way to accomplish his goals. Even when he failed the first time.

    I realized I've maybe done TOO good a job at raising color-blind kids.

  • sarahgoonsquadsarah

    Fortunately, our school talked about segregation on MLK day so my kids came to me with it, and I agree, The Nuts Talk was a far easier one.

    I think I still liked it better when they didn't know there was a difference.

  • clumberkim

    I liked it better too. It feels like a profound loss of innocence. There's no going back and he may never look at the world the same way again.

  • clumberkim

    I realized this morning I should have talked more about the idea of “history.” To Oliver, “a long time ago” could mean last weekend or when dinosaurs roamed the earth or anything in between.

  • http://headlessfamily5.blogspot.com/ Headless Mom

    Sounds like you did fine. As he gets older there will be more conversations, more in depth. feed him what he can understand, but more importantly be there for the questions!

  • red_pen_mama

    I have not had this chat with my girls yet. But they haven't started “history” yet, either. F's pre-K class is pretty monochrome, but her daycare, fortunately, is not. I did have the odd thought not too long ago that I'm going to have to explain slavery. I mean, what a weird concept — not just slavery, but somehow explaining it to my kids. Oy.

    I'm sure you did fine!