When he was 3 or 4, Son brought home a coloring picture of Martin Luther King he had made in school. MLK’s face was nothing short of psychedelic in its whirls and swirls. Son had used every crayon in his box. I made some my-how-interesting remark and learned that the picture was of a man who wanted the people of all colors to be happy.
Of course, how obvious: the man himself must be one of them, that is, one of the people of all colors.
Fast forword: I had been following the debate about whether Black History Month was still needed when the New York Post weighed in.
But here we go again doesn’t mean we have to go along. It’s nurture, not nature, that leads one from the people of all colors to the black people and the white people.
Or so my study shows, limited as it is by its single experimental subject.
When my son was born, I worked at a historically black university. I quit when he turned 2 but after a year was ready to return. The position was still open. My condition was that I’d be back when there was an opening for my son at the Child Development Center (CDC). There wasn’t one in the 3-year-old class, but there was in the 4, and so for the next 2 ½ years, Son was the only Caucasian in a class of 25 children.
Was I the only white person at the University with a pre-K child? Not by a long shot: in my area alone there were at least 6, maybe 8 or 10. But none took advantage of the opportunity to have their child in a university-based program in their building under the care of their colleagues. Why? I don’t know. I thought they were nuts. All I can figure is they thought it would be difficult for their child to be the only one of his color in the room.
So was it hard for my son? I don’t think so. He was willing to get up and cheerful in the morning and happy when I collected him. He never tried to escape and get to my office. Did I counsel him about his unusual situation? Never. Not a word.
Only once was there a problem. I came to get him at the end of the day and Son was standing watching other kids climb the monkey bars. This was unusual, and the teacher remarked that she was worried Son wasn’t feeling well. As we walked to the car I asked him if he didn’t want to play. He responded that one of the boys told him he couldn’t. And why not?
“Because I have blue eyes.”
I have to admit it: I had to admire the excluder’s finesse.
So the next morning I told Son’s teacher why he hadn’t joined in the day before and watched as one of the world’s most beatific people very quietly went ballistic. She said, “We’ll see about that.” And so she did and that was the end of that.
When Son left the CDC he entered kindergarten at a racially mixed school.
Shortly after school began, when I came to pick Son up from after-school care, he said one of the program ladies had a paper I had to sign. Was it Mrs. X or Mrs. Y? He wasn’t sure of the name, but “she wears a whistle around her neck.” I looked over and said to Son, “They both have whistles.” “Well, she’s wearing shorts.” They’re both in shorts.
It’s 90 degress, 5:48 pm and I’m 6 months pregnant. I could end this in a flash: “Look, is it the black lady or the white lady?” But interest beat impatience.
Finally, after going through she’s the one with sunglasses, and she’s the one talking to the kids, Son got around to it: “She’s the one with black skin.”
Not the black lady but the lady with black skin.
They’re different, aren’t they? Or so thought a discerning 5-year old that day.