I just realized that Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the States. I’d forgotten, given how I don’t live in the States. My kids and I will be hitting homeschool hard on Monday, so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk to them more about Martin Luther King, Jr.
As a family, we don’t shy away from discussion of race. Funny story, my kids and I were waiting for a flight in Atlanta not too long ago and we found ourselves talking about Laquan McDonald. It was in that shitty terminal cafe that I introduced to my kids the words “institutionalized racism”. They’re seven and eight. They got it, and they wanted to talk more about it. It isn’t too young to talk about this stuff. If anything, it’s too old to suddenly understand that our lives are, by and large, easier than the lives of people of color.
So, knowing that every other homeschooling mom in the world is at the top of their game and has their shit planned out YEARS in advance, I took to Pinterest, assuming I could plug in a few words and find a lesson already planned for me. Bam. Because I’m late-planning like that.
I did, let the record state, find some materials that we will be using, but the other stuff I found was jaw dropping.
Let me preface these findings with telling you what Martin Luther King, Jr. means to me, so that you can kind of see where I’m coming from. To me, the man represents change and bravery. Balls. Determination. The willingness to stand up. I recently quoted someone (without attribution) saying, “The Civil Rights Movement is now.” It is. It always has been. In my younger mind, I liked to think of the Civil Rights Movement as a thing that I kind of missed. I enjoyed telling myself that, hell yes, I’d have been sitting at those lunch counters, raising up those signs, getting angry and defending the rights of my fellow man. But the truth is, if I’m not doing it now, I wouldn’t have done it then. A lot has changed since the days of King, but not much has changed since the days of King, if you know what I mean. If you are not being radical today, you would not have made center stage in the photos back then.
To me, King represents the responsibility we all have in rising up against what is wrong, in not being complacent, in fact, in being righteously angry.
So imagine my surprise when I see that Pinterest has completely white-washed the event. What I found, instead of careful, age-appropriate discussion on the importance and absolute necessity of change, was a bunch of word searches where kids are instructed to find words like ‘peace’ and ‘diversity’. I Have a Dream speeches with fill-in-the-blanks, the examples given being things like, “I have a dream that one day my mom will let me play outside in the rain.” And, my favorite of all, a ‘science’ experiment that encourages kids to crack open a brown egg and then crack open a white egg to see that, ta da!, inside we are all equal. The comments on that one were priceless. “So simple, but so powerful.”
Is it? Is it really? You know what I see when I see two eggs busted open? I see two eggs busted open. You know how I feel when you tell me that they are a metaphor for black lives and white lives? I see that a white person almost definitely came up with that genius trick.
I don’t know how many different ways to phrase it, but when you tell a child that blacks and whites are the same on the inside, aren’t you doing an incredible disservice to black history? Aren’t you kind of ignoring the reality of our current situation? Aren’t you almost setting your kid up for racism? If you tell me that blacks and whites are the same, I’m going to ask you why blacks go to bed hungrier than whites, why they earn less than whites, why they are incarcerated more than whites. I’m going to ask you why they die earlier and more violently. If you tell me they are the same, I’m going to assume they’re doing something wrong to muck the whole thing up, because the fact is, blacks are not faring as well as whites in this world. Crack an egg all day long, but that’s just the truth.
I get wanting to tell your kids that we are the same, because it sounds a lot like we are equal, and I get that. We should be equal. We have equal desires and equal potential. We just don’t have equal access. I don’t think our kids are too stupid to understand a history and a current tradition of prejudice and racism. I think they get it, and I think they’re confused when we don’t talk about it. The Civil Rights Movement is now. Martin Luther King, Jr. may be gone, but his dream is still waiting to be realized. If you act like the problem of race has come and gone, you remove the responsibility to act.
We’re going to talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. tomorrow, but we’re going to talk about his work in the present tense. There will be no cutesy acrostic poems about how hard he fought to get the change we see today. I will not allow my children to write a speech about how they dream of a world that better accommodates their desires. We are going to talk about how it takes people with balls to stand up and rally for change. We’re going to talk about why blacks fare worse than whites in America, in the world, still today. We are going to sit down and take a hard look at ourselves, at our friendships, at our privilege. We’re going to find ways to raise signs.
I have a friend who is deeply involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. Through her, I’ve been educating myself and opening my eyes, gratefully, painfully. One of the most powerful things I’ve read was the response a black person had to a white person asking how she could help the movement. The black person replied with something along the lines of, “It’s not my job to tell you how to get involved.” At first, I was taken aback by the words. I thought, “Jesus Christ, cut us some slack over here. We are trying.” But I think I get it now. You don’t ask the person who is choking how to do the Heimlich Manuever. As whites, we have the privilege. We have as many tools as there are. Now it’s going to take determination and creativity. We cannot ask other people to do the work for us.
My kids are smarter than a cracked egg lesson. Yours are too.