Monthly Archives: February 2012

Racism – Are we really making it better?

Photo by Don Hankins

Photo by Don Hankins

On our way to school this morning, we passed a school with a big sign out front advertising Black History Month. Melody (who is 7) noticed it and was puzzled. Our conversation went something like this:

Melody: “What’s a black history month?”

Me: “It’s a month set aside to focus on black people in history.”

She looked confused. “Do you understand what that means?” I ask. “No.” She said solemnly. She did not understand the “black” in the title. She has never referred to her friends with other colors of skin as their color so it did not make sense to her. With a slightly heavy heart, I tried to explain why the month is titled that way. “Is there a white history month?” she asked. I tried to answer with the best information I could. “No. Some people feel like all the other months are white history months and that we need to set aside one month to focus on black people in history so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.” She was still confused. “That doesn’t make any sense to me. Why does what color people are matter in history? I thought it was about who people are and what they did?” *sigh* After a bit more discussion, she seemed satisfied if still baffled. And I felt like I had robbed her of a tiny bit of innocence. The whole conversation left me unsettled and in deep thought.

I was not raised to view all races as equal. In fact, I was raised in a very racially divided atmosphere, where each “side” was afraid of or had certain views of what the other side was like. In high school, I got to know someone of another race and discovered that I quite enjoyed her company, much to my surprise. As a result of that friendship, I started to question the views I had been raised with. It’s been a long journey for me, but once I began to realize that we are all created equal and that diversity is an amazingly enriching thing, I became determined to raise my kids to see people, rather than skin color.

After my conversation with Melody this morning, I realize that we have done a good job with keeping racism out of our home. But it saddens me that no matter how neutral we are, or teach our kids to be, that they will learn that many in this world view people as different and different as bad. Are we perpetuating the divide with all the things created to close it? The purpose of Black History Month as I understand it is to make sure black historical figures get the attention and study they deserve. . .but why does it need to be a separate month? Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach about those people in the context and timeline where they made a difference. . interwoven with the people and places they touched in their realm of influence? It feels like separating them out for a month is like saying they don’t matter for the rest of the year, which is far from true. Or maybe I’m just missing some major part of the goal for Black History Month.

One thing I do know, is that my daughter sees her friends as her friends. She categorizes them by age sometimes, or by interests. . .or by who likes math and who likes reading, but never by color or even by appearance unless she’s trying to describe a friend to me so I’ll know who she’s talking about. And then it’s not, “You know, the black girl,” but rather, “My friend Amber. . you know, she has dark brown eyes, dark curly hair and brown skin? She’s a little taller than me, too.” And it saddens me that as she grows, the racial divide will become obvious to her in spite of our efforts to help her see people as a mixture of personalities, appearances and interests. It does make me pause and wonder, if we all raised our kids to view skin color the same as eye color or height, what would the world be like? I just can’t help but think it would be a more peaceful, more tolerant place.