Yesterday, I tried to explain segregation to Hunter, who just turned four in December. Media has a large progressive population. We have a strong arts community and a lot of local outreach. If Hunter had a black girlfriend (or boyfriend) and they walked down the street holding hands, no one in Media would bat an eyelash - but most of the people they passed on the street would be white.
Hunter is one of the most privileged people in America. He is male, tall, blond, white, well-spoken, intelligent, celebrates Christian cultural holidays as well as Jewish holidays, so even though he's Jewish, he can blend in with the majority. He has 20/20 vision, he is fast, strong and thin, he is able in every way. He is charming and perceptive. He learns quickly. His family is not wealthy, but we are comfortable enough that he wants for nothing. His parents are not divorced.
Hunter needs to have a strong sense of justice, because he may never experience life being unfair. He needs to understand that he is privileged, and become the kid who stops the bully instead of joining the bully, ignoring the bully, or, even worse, being the bully himself.
I think about this a lot, more than I thought about it with Archer, because Archer, though he is also quite privileged, did not have the Houser Viking genes and attitude, and also comes from a "broken home". Archer saw firsthand what it's like to be outside the "norm" and Archer's response was almost always compassion (and when it wasn't, he usually got a lecture from his mother).
Yesterday, I was determined to explain who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was to Hunter in a way that was meaningful and yet didn't lose his 4 year old attention span. Of course, I started with music.
When I was little, my brother and I had a few Sesame Street albums, including this one with Pete Seeger and "Brother Kirk". At the time, "Brother Kirk" was this guy in a flat cap who talked funny and sang the Martin Luther King song. I looked him up yesterday and found out that his real name is Reverend Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, and, in addition to The Ballad of Martin Luther King, he wrote more songs about black heroes (Harriet Tubman, etc.).
It's a great song, and catchy (I remembered it 30+ years later), so I played it for both kids, and I explained to Hunter who Martin Luther King was. I said that in the United States, there were white people who didn't let black kids go to the same schools as white kids, who didn't let black people eat at the same restaurants as white people and who didn't let black people sit wherever they wanted to on the bus, they had to sit in the back. Martin Luther King fought against those people, but he didn't have a gun, he marched and marched with so many people that they changed the world, and it got better. It's still not right, but it got better. Black kids were allowed into schools and restaurants and they could sit where they wanted to on the bus.
That, I figured, was enough for one preschooler's attention span.
He said, "The white people who wouldn't let the kids in the schools, they were the bad guys."
I said, "Yes, and Dr. Martin Luther King was a hero because he fought for the black kids to be able to go to school just like the white kids did."
I also explained (because I remember thinking about this a lot when I was a kid), that white people aren't really "white" skinned, our skin is closer to pink, and black people aren't really "black" skinned, their skin is closer to brown, those are just words people use.
Equality starts with us. Equality starts with understanding that people who look different, speak differently*, think differently, like different music, smell differently, know a different set of cultural norms - that those people are people and have the same rights as we do, and that if they don't, it is OUR JOB to make sure they do.
Equality is not about who you like or how you think people should look or behave, equality is about hiring the most qualified person for the job, treating each person who commits a crime the same way as every other person who committed that crime, about suspicion of wrongdoing based on actions, not physical appearance. Equality is about understanding that if you yell at a kid every time you see him, he will put his fingers in his ears when he sees you coming, and other kids might too ... so a black man will be more inclined to run from a cop than a white man will be, and that doesn't mean the black man is guilty, it means that cops have a shitty track record with black people.
Equality is about understanding that in the Race race, we are not all on the same starting line, so we have work to do if we want to find out who is really the fastest to the finish.
Equality is a marathon, not a sprint. The training plan is hard, and we will get injured, and after that marathon, there's another one, and another.
"Now, it's time for you to take a look
At that mirror on that wall
Did you pull that trigger?
Were you there at all?
And there's a sickness in this nation
And it seems to be obviously clear
Gonna kill a man with hate
Because he would not die from fear.
And I've been to the mountaintop
Today I have a dream
Don’t you ever forget
The words of Martin Luther King" -Rev. F. D. "Brother Kirk" Kirkpatrick
He sung that on Sesame Street in 1974. It's 2016. We have a black President, but we also have a high black body count and an incarceration rate that is the highest in the world (the WORLD, including China, Iran, Libya!). If the current incarceration rate continues, 1 in 3 black men can expect to spend some time in prison in his lifetime. NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet here.
Think about your three closest friends. Think of one of them in prison - as a certainty. Now, your three friends, they probably don't kill people, right? They might do some drugs, though, or get drunk and a little belligerent? A lot of my friends do ... but I don't expect any of us to get arrested or go to prison.
One in three.
We have a lot of work to do, America. Every last fucking one of us. Every damn day.
* this is the hardest one for me. I am totally serious. People who do not use proper grammar are the second-easiest group for me to discriminate against without thinking about it. The easiest group for me to discriminate against are those who discriminate against others. As Tom Lehrer said, "I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that." I am more motivated to work on my grammar snob problem.