I knew 5th grade would be tough. I expected her to grow-up a little more. I expected her to gain some independence, start moving away from Barbies and Fairies to explore more of real-life heroes.
I expected this to change due to society. From her friends and classmates who seem to be growing up so much quicker than she seems to be. I did not expect her to lose the shine of innocence doing a Social Studies Project.
Abby’s class is exploring Civil Rights. Why we have them, what they mean and how they still affect our choices today. This weekend she was working on her project, Ruby Bridges. She picked her because Ruby was beautiful, a child rather than an adult and most important to Abby: a girl. Yet no matter how Abby wrapped her head around the materials she just didn’t understand why Ruby is so important. Ruby just wanted to go to school, so why couldn’t she?
Abby: I just don’t understand. They wouldn’t let Ruby go to school because she was a girl?
Me: Well, not just because she was a girl. Also because she is black.
Abby: What difference does any of that make?
Me: Well, back in 1960…
Abby: Wait, when was that? Before people lived in houses?
Me: No. As I was saying back before I was born white people and black people didn’t go to school together.
Abby: Why not, that doesn’t make sense. Was it because they were Special Needs?
Me: No, they just ….(interrupted by)
Abby: Well that is just dumb. Of course everyone should go to school together. It doesn’t matter if you are white, black, special needs or a boy. (By the way I love her hierarchy) As long as you want to learn you should be able to go to any school you want to go to.
How can I explain, to this child that sadly adults do not see the World the same way she does? That people judge, by face value rather than by values? How do you teach a child about racism who has never been tarnished by it?
“Racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it”
Am I teaching Abby racism and thereby spreading it? If this child (and others like her) never noticed color why am I pointing it out? Will she now start categorizing her friends by how they look first and what they add to her life second? I am now an active participant in showing her the world is not always kind and good.I would much rather tell her there is no Tooth Fairy than to tell her people are ignorant.
I know it is an important discussion.
Yet I feel out of my league. I have never distinguished race or creed with her other than to explain why one friend goes to Hebrew school while she goes to CCD. Or why one friend has two moms. While she has had friends of different races, she has never distinguished them from friends that are white. She understands that others are different. That friends come in all shapes, sizes, colors and needs.
Heck she thinks her grandfather is my real dad even though I call him Joe. When Bridget was born she was ecstatic that Bridget got Jampa’s eyes.
So how do you do this, parents with 5th grader experience? How do you wipe the fairy dust out of your child’s eyes but let them keep their innocence in their soul?
This weekend my answer was printing out everything on Ruby Bridges for Abby to see what a hero looks like. How a child can make a difference. That she should never let being a girl or a child stop her from changing the world around us and making it better. To be grateful for the children, like Ruby, who went before her blazing a path of change. To become a warrior for peace for all not a select few.
And I pray, to the depths of my soul, I pray that when Abby has a child racism has been eradicated like Polio. That no person should ever have to wonder why someone was denied based on a visual. That she keeps her clean heart.
“Each and every one of us is born with a clean heart. Our babies know nothing about hate or racism. But soon they begin to learn – and only from us. We keep racism alive. We pass it on to our children. We owe it to our children to help them keep their clean start.” –Ruby Bridges