Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Are We Teaching Hate?

My youngest daughter came home from school with a book about Martin Luther King Jr recently. Very appropriate, considering that a couple of weeks ago we celebrated his birthday.

I began reading the book to her and got a bit disturbed.

Segregation of schools. Segregation of services. Unequal access to transportation, stores, jobs. Black people being severely beaten and sprayed with water from a fire hydrant, just for wanting equal rights.

Yes, it all happened, in the all too recent past. Yes, it was a terrible time. And we should never forget that we in this country, the land of the "free," did those things as recently as one generation removed from me.

But it never even occurred to my daughter until I began reading this book to her that people with different color skin could be treated differently. She was confused by the term "black."

"Do you mean brown people, Mommy?" she asked. "Because I've never seen someone with black skin. And what about people who are dark peach or light tan? What are they?"

"They" defy classification. We all do, don't we? Let's start treating differently the people who grew up with an Italian heritage but turned out to actually be French but who are actually more Croatian than either of those heritages, shall we? Because that would be my family.

I am all for teaching history lest we repeat it. But now, when diversity is so deeply ingrained in our children, are we doing ourselves a disservice by teaching that it wasn't always this way? Will my daughter look at her classmates whose skin is darker than hers and think of them differently, when she never did up to this point?

The other element that's changing is that "diversity" today is not about who is black and who is white. It is about who is Hispanic, or Muslim, or Indian or Chinese. It is about population growth in a multitude of ethnicities that most of us probably don't even know. Did you know that people of the Karen culture are the largest growing population in the Twin Cities? (Karen is pronounced Ka-REHN and is a certain culture of people who are immigrating here from Burma and Thailand.) The Twin Cities is home to the largest population of people of this culture outside of Southeast Asia. Check out their supporting organization, Karen Organization of Minnesota. What an amazing people. And guess what -- they came to this country to escape many of the same persecutions we did in the 1960's against a certain class of people as well. Ironic, huh?

So I'm not sure what to make of this. I agree that we should pass on the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. He was an incredible leader who transformed our nation. I'm just not sure that age 6 is the right time to teach that hate ran so deeply in this country at one time.


  1. Chase and I were talking about MLK Jr Day. We talked about the issues and mindset of people "back then".

    He just couldn't understand why some people would treat others badly because of their skin color.

    "Thats just stupid."

  2. I'm so glad that was his comment. I think my mind went in a different direction because there were pictures in this book of the violence that was done to win the cause. She stared at the picture of people being hit with water from a hose for nearly 5 straight minutes.

  3. I grew up in the Civil Rights era. I participated in discussions in college. The fraternity I was affiliated with was felt to be segregationist on the national level, we had no person of color in the organization. I grew up in an all white section of the country and had no exposure to other races until after high school. Nigger was not a bad term in high school, more of a funny term. Only later did I learn the terrible meaning of the word and I will not allow Nigger to be used in my home. When I grew up Brazil nuts were Nigger Toes. So, that said, I don't think 6 is too early to expose children to what took place. I think the holocaust and the civil rights era are appropriate topics of discussion in the home. I live in an area where racism still is present, even in members of my extended family. However it starts with education of the young to break that hold. I'm glad you are reading that book to Marissa, perhaps if she understands the context she will know why it is so wrong.