Losing Innocence

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” 
(Ruby Bridges)

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.

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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?

Photo credit: Lisa Perez Fine Art Photography

Photo credit: Lisa Perez Fine Art Photography

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


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17 thoughts on “Losing Innocence

  1. juliesboyz

    I agree. I hated explaining racism to Eric. Our favorite babysitter is black. His best friend from grade school was born in Romania (and she looked very middle Eastern) but it never phased him or me. We had it when were were learning how to fill out forms. “Why do they care if I am ‘white’ or ‘black’ or ‘Latino’?” I have no idea kiddo, but they do. 😦

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    1. firebailey Post author

      Exactly! It was beyond difficult to explain when it is just out of her realm of understanding. She just thinks you have to place nice, even if you do not particularly like someone.

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  2. Bronpon76

    Kerri, you’re writing is evolving so quickly as you write every day for October! I love reading your words and thoughts.Coops is a very inquisitive kid and we talk a lot about History being his favourite topic. I am guided by him. We have a very rich Aboriginal History and I feel as even though we are bringing attention to race ( and therefore horrid histories) we are showing our kids that the right attitude is imperitive. There must be some kind of balance which is no doubt up to each parent/school to teach. It reminds me of a kindergarten kid a few weeks back teasing Coop about his speech. Coop didn’t care.Pepper was devastated and told her teacher. Her teacher wanted to speak to the class in general about disability etc. she approached me first and I suggested a quite word with the boy about manners but not to highlight Coopers differences as the other kids just see him as Coops. Sorry for the essay! Bron

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    1. firebailey Post author

      Never, ever, ever apologize for the essay! Especially after complimenting my rambling 🙂 I’ve always been guided by Abby. This project though opened up a discussion I wasn’t prepared for. It does come down to manners, doesn’t it? That everyone should be equal. I understand the need to know they why so it does not continue to happen. However I want to make sure the discussion doesn’t make it happen. If that makes any sense!

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  3. Kristi Campbell - findingninee

    I love Abby. So much. Tucker asked one of his babysitters why she was brown. She said “I don’t know! Why are you pink?” and he replied that he wasn’t pink – he was orange. Conversation over. It should be that way. I hate that Abby is learning about people being horrible but love that you’re having the right conversations with her. I think you’re doing it exactly right and I adore this post so much.

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    1. firebailey Post author

      Thanks, Kristi. The conversation should be over, shouldn’t it? 1960 was 54 years ago. By now racism should be a distant memory. One we are ashamed of but one we have moved on from.

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  4. Dana

    It does suck that our children lose their innocence, and learn that the world is not always a kind and fair place. But if Abby is going to change the world, she has to know what she is up against. Better she learns that racism and ignorance exists when you can help her process it and talk about why it’s wrong, and what she can do to stop it. She’ll need to hold on to the way she feels now, to combat the way society views differences in skin color, ability, ethnicity, and so many other things. And as she gets older, you can remind her of how her early childhood was filled with so many different people who were unique and amazing, and how their physical appearance had nothing to do with who they were.

    I have no doubt that you will help Abby keep her innocent soul. Just keep doing what you’re doing, Kerri.

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    1. firebailey Post author

      Dana, I love that: she has to know what she is up against. Thank you, I’m going to take that message away from this process. Because it is so important that she be an informed girl super hero

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  5. tamaralikecamera

    Oh…this is tough. By the way, “What difference does any of that make?” is the best quote ever.
    Ah, kids!
    Scarlet is in kindergarten and at least four of her classmates have different kinds of parents than she does. Two moms. Two dads. Two moms AND a dad. She was born with a clean slate. She doesn’t care. She just wants people’s parents to play “Monster” on the school playground.
    The kids in her class also cover a lot of races. Again, she doesn’t notice it.

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  6. sandy shoes

    I feel this every time my girls notice sexism, as well… everything from why aren’t there more girl Avengers, or why would a Fair Pay Act even be necessary. I have started showing them James Bond movies, because James Bond is cool and it is a necessary part of their cultural education as my daughters :). I wasn’t so concerned about explaining the sex (“James Bond likes to smooch a lot, and a lot of people like smooching with him”) or the violence, but the sexism stings. I don’t want them absorbing the cultural norms of 1965. I want them to notice, and say “whoa, that is weird and wrong,” and move on in 2014 with a sharper eye. But it’s tough to watch the awareness of human suckitude dawning on them.

    And now I must ask my Peanut what is this social studies project she has told me nothing about…

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    1. firebailey Post author

      I hadn’t thought of the sexism, but you are so right. It falls right in line with this discussion. How everyone should be equal. How Princess Leia was just important (or more) to her escape and the Rebel alliance more than Luke.

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  7. Michelle

    It is hard to see them lose their innocence but she also has a wonderful mom to help guide her and fill those gaps the questions bring. 4th and 5th grade from Kayla brought about discussions on segregation and Jim Crow Laws. In Kindergarten last year Lucas came home talking about MLK and I was surprised at how much he was absorbing from that. You’re doing a good job, stay confident in that.

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  8. thelatchkeymom

    I truly am hoping that things are really changing with our children’s generation. My kids never mention a person’s color, religion or special needs to me. I’m in the school a lot, and all of the children seem to be very innocent about racism. My parents never spoke about it, so I had no preconceived motions. I hate taking to my kids about it, but I tell the truth. I took the kids to the Civil Rights Memorial in Birmingham, and they cried, because they just didn’t understand the violence that existed against blacks. They kept asking me why – and I didn’t know how to answer.

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    1. firebailey Post author

      That was my stumbling block, Allie. How to explain something that (to quote Abby) doesn’t make sense. How do you explain not just ignorance but how anyone could just judge another person. I’m still struggling with it.

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