Friday, January 18, 2013

Civil Discourse

The other night while we were eating dinner and discussing the President's proposal for gun control, Noelle was sitting quietly finishing her dinner. During a lull in the conversation she turned to me and said, "Mommy, Martin got shot."very matter-of-factly. Alarmed Dylan and I both gave her our full attention as she went on, "...Martin King-y. He got shot."  Comprehension flooded our faces.

"Yes honey, Dr. King was shot."

"Why was he shot?"

And here is where I was completely unprepared to discuss race relations of the 1960s with a six-year old but having promised that we would always answer her questions to the best of our abilities, into the fray we boldly plunged. "He was shot because a man who had light skin and light hair thought he was better than Dr. King who had dark skin and dark hair."

"Oh." Pause. "He was a bad man."

"Yes honey, the man who shot Dr. King was a very bad man."

"Did he shoot him with a bow and arrow?"

"No baby, he was shot with a gun."

"I hate guns."

"Me too."

From that point, Dyl and I tried to frame our explanations that there were a large number a people who thought that since they had light skin and light hair that it made them better than anyone who had darker skin and hair (and in some parts of the country still do). Her face lit up.

"Oh! Like the Sneetches! (Dr. Seuess story)."

"Right, exactly like the story. The Sneetches with the stars thought that they were better than the Sneetches without the stars but we know the truth: that it didn't matter because they were all the  same."

I relayed the story later that evening to my mother who commented that prejudice and hate is a learned characteristic. My grandparents had very strong prejudices towards a group but thought the individuals were just fine. It was exceedingly frustrating for my mother who was never able to get them to see the absurdity of their positions so all she could do was to raise my sisters and me with as few of those prejudices as possible. And Dylan and I will raise Noelle and Noah with fewer still. Maybe if everyone thought in a similar fashion, we could erase prejudice from the earth, one generation at a time.

As for me, I'm looking forward to Monday when I will be able to share not just the Dr. Martin Luther King celebrations with my daughter but also the inauguration. She's a pretty neat kid and I have to do my part too to lessen the chance of her learning prejudices against others.

And then? We'll bounce.

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