Last night my daughter and I attended a one-woman show that our church was sponsoring. Damaris Webb, a native Portlander and actress, presented “The Box Marked Black: Tales from a Halfrican-American growing up Mulatto. With sock puppets!” If you live in the Portland area, I urge you to google Damaris Webb and see her next show.
On the way over to church, my daughter said, “Mom, I’m the only one in my class who doesn’t know what the N-word is.” On the one hand, it occurred to me we might be getting something right – she doesn’t know that word, and she’s never heard us say it. On the other hand, I’d like for us to teach her about that word. So I told her that she might hear it in the show, and we would talk about it on the way home.
And so we did. She heard the word twice, but I’m not sure it registered with her as much as the scene with sock puppet Kizzy from “Roots” and sock puppet Laura from “Little House on the Prairie”. (It made sense within the show, and was rather hilarious.) We talked about the N-word, and how she was never allowed to say it. The closest parallel I could make for her was that using the N-word is like Hermione Granger being called a Mudblood in the Harry Potter books. I’m not sure she knows the B-word or the C-word, so I thought Harry Potter was a safer reference.
And then, because it came up in the show, we talked about the mini-series “Roots”. She knows a little bit about slavery and the Civil War – she knows more about the Civil Rights Movement. I said to her, “Do you know how people got slaves? They were captured in Africa and crammed into ships and taken to the United States where they were sold.”
“That’s TERRIBLE,” she said. “They are human beings! They aren’t things.” Then we talked about the people who knew slavery was wrong and fought it for a long time, and we talked about the Civil War. “Mom,” she said, “if we hadn’t won the Civil War and if the slaves weren’t freed, there would be so many people who wouldn’t be in my class. There would be so many teachers who wouldn’t be at my school.”
When my daughter was a toddler, I read an article saying the right thing to do was not to teach your child to be color-blind. Rather, allow your child to see the differences, and talk about them. So that has been our approach in teaching our child about race. Yes, people look different. That doesn’t mean they should be treated differently. But because some people look different, they are treated differently, that’s wrong.
I hope we have more of these conversations, and I hope I said the right things to a nine-year-old. The conversation will be different when she is 12, or 16, or 21. I hope she continues to feel the injustice of slavery, of racism, of prejudice.
But I think our upcoming conversation will be a little different: we passed a sign that read “Best Ass Contest”; she said, “Mom, that’s so funny but I don’t think it’s about donkeys.” God, help us parents.