Last week, my five-year-old asked me if “a King or a Martin Junior King” had died. She had all sorts of questions about where he died and how she saw signs from an old movie that said “Whites Only”. She did not really understand what that truly meant, and I tried to suggest to her how silly it was to prevent people with brown skin from going to a restaurant or the movie theater. She said that it wasn’t silly but that it was mean, and that she would put up a sign that said “Brown, Tan, White skin only”. I gently suggested that she should not put up a sign mentioning specific skin colors, but she told me that she wanted to make sure everyone could come.
I can only assume she even heard about this because her kindergarten teacher discussed the significance of missing school today. But her obvious confusion, fascination with his death in general (“I wonder where he was shot”), and general misunderstanding of segregation got me wondering. Would she have been better off not being told about MLK, Jr. until she could better understand the social injustice he fought to remedy and the tragedy of his death?
My daughter is blind to color differences. She recognizes that some people have brown skin and some have tan and some have peach skin, but to her, that is no different than the different colors in her crayon box or the differences among her many dolls. Skin color has no significance for her – and that’s the way I want to keep her. However, the minute we start discussing segregation and race issues, skin color takes on a new meaning. All of a sudden, it has significance because people have died because of the color of their skin. My daughter automatically loses that innocence and blind faith in others, and something that should be a non-issue becomes one by default.
I am not, in any way, suggesting that she does not learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., his message, his faith, his importance to our society. In fact, it bothers me that more companies do not close today – my own included. We should recognize the battles he fought for equality because they impact us all, no matter what color our skin. My concern lies in the fact that in an effort to explain everything, we force kids to grow up too soon. Maybe, if we allowed our children to retain their innocence and trust in everyone a bit longer, we would be fostering the very same virtues Mr. King espoused – faith, trust, color-blindness, equality.
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