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.