|With my siblings (me on left), around 1972|
As we approached the other third graders waiting outside to meet us, my beloved teacher, Mr. Sposito, who was in his first year of teaching and wanted us to call him "Stan," pointed out the girl who would be my partner for the day. She was African-American. As an eight-year-old child who had never been exposed to anyone with a different color skin, I was more than a bit nervous. But I said nothing: I was brave but also polite. How could I protest? Mr. Sposito told me that of all the students in his class, he had specifically chosen me to be April's partner.
What did I find? April was an outgoing, funny, and friendly girl. When her class came to our school, I enjoyed spending time with her again. Mr. Sposito changed my life and challenged my ivory tower world.
My parents were always progressive, but they were raising children and trying to make a living during the civil rights era. And we lived in Oregon, a long way from the deep south. My dad worked as a social worker in inner-city Portland, with African-American students, parents, and teachers. He worked to make a difference in their lives, and I will always admire him for how he lived out his belief in social justice. When he was transferred to the west side of town (less diverse), he missed the inner city.
|Nicholas' school worksheet|
The most important thing I learned from Mr. Sposito is that we are scared of things we do not know. That's the reason I was nervous about being matched up with an African-American girl as an eight-year-old. I had no other reason to fear her.
That's why it's important for our children to be around people who are of different races, sexual orientations, abilities, religions, etc...so they will be more open minded than we were as children.
|My white face with coworkers and students in Japan|
In "5 Tips to Raise Racially Sensitive Children: Honoring MLK’s Legacy by Ellie of Musing Momma," Ellie talks about simple ways to raise racial awareness with our children. We need to talk about race with our families, examine our own stereotypes and be open to change ourselves, expose our children to differences and celebrate them, and promote diversity in our lives. We need to be brave enough to talk about our own prejudices and attempt to open our own minds.
My children are way more open minded and receptive than I was as a child...as a result of our changing cultural mores and more progressive education, growing up with an African-American president (this is huge!), and a more diverse population in our schools. They actually have much to teach me about race. Last year I remember singing "We Shall Overcome" with Nicholas' first-grade class during Black History Month, and my eyes teared up watching them all hold hands and singing with gusto. Another time he told me me all about Clementine Hunter, an African-American painter, whom he had learned about in school.
My seven-year-old's best buddy is biracial, and he takes this stuff extremely seriously. Many of his drawings of people have different-colored skin. He believes in racial justice in his core. He has a big dream, too. My dream is that when he too is 49 and thinks back to his childhood, he is amazed to recall the racism prevalent in our society when he was a child, and how it has vanished.
|Nicholas' drawing of Rosa Parks, Dr. King, and Jackie Robinson|