“Mommy, why are all those black men on the field?” My then 5-year old son said in a too-loud voice in the crowded stands of a minor league All-Star game. I was mortified. Why would he say that? We don’t even talk about color in our house.
So I asked him quietly, “Honey, what are you talking about?”
“Those men out there on the field. In the black clothes. Why are they out there?”
OOOOOHHHHH. “Those are the umpires for the game today. They have a lot of them out there don’t they?”
Surely the people around us were quick to judge since we tend to do that as humans. Surely they were quick to judge because Americans see in black and white. Right?
Needless to say I was relieved that this was simply a child’s way of asking a question that was obvious to him. There were a lot of field umps for that game, wearing black from head to toe. Many of them did have brown skin as well, but that was not what he saw.
When Jackson was a baby, I went to a seminar on Intentional Parenting. Being someone who is trained in public relations, I already had a skill for intentionally forming opinions and understanding how communication shapes behavior. So this information fell lock step into my already strategic mind. The basic premise is to know who you want your child to be when he or she grows up and raise them in that direction. You must start young and you must be consistent.
Again being someone trained in media, I was well aware that it was necessary to guard him from influences that would be on TV, on the radio, in video games and elsewhere, so we have been extra cautious and very intentional about what media his eyes get to see and ears get to hear.
One of our intentional goals was to raise a child who didn’t see in black and white. We would not use language in our house that labeled others by color or race. We already were the type of people who didn’t treat others differently; we just had to be careful not to use color as language to describe others during the years his language skills were forming. This way “black man” or “white man” would not be a part of early vocabulary.
Today he sees people for who they are. We know that some people have sad and angry hearts and act a certain way, but that is a matter of the heart. We know that some people have different likes and preferences and that is a matter of personality and culture. God loves all people equally.
The first discussions about racial discord in America have come as a result of learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in school, every year in January since Kindergarten. It started with a coloring page at 5, but now at 9, the discussions are a little more in depth. This year was the right year to talk about slavery, greed, power, hate and sin. And then to talk about courage and character.
He already had the knowledge about Egyptians enslaving the Israelites and how Moses fought to set them free from Pharoah. This made it easy to talk about sins of man and how since the beginning of time, man has fought man for power, land, money and hate. How man can get into a position of power to force others to do things. It’s not right, but it’s human nature to control and when the wrong person gets into control, others can suffer. (My husband teaches a class on the Holocaust, and he has no shortage of material to teach from when it comes to genocide.)
My purpose was for him to have a deeper understanding of why a people, any people, could become slaves in the first place. And to have a deeper understanding that this is not uniquely American. That the sin of power is universal and timeless. In that same way, the courage in the hearts of oppressed men is universal and timeless. Part of the American story is the plight of the brown-skinned man, from slavery to Civil Rights to the continued fight for equality.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the many heroes to this American story. A man whose work and words went a long way to change the American paradigm when it came to races getting along with other races. He was a man of courage who encouraged others to see people for their character, and not the color of their skin. He was killed for his courage to do the right thing and deserves to be remembered and honored.
This larger historical view will help him to see the deeper causes, to see beyond the black and white of the issue. So that when more of today’s skewed media gets to him, he won’t buy into any of the superficial racial stereotypes. So that he won’t hate our country, our history, or any one group that fights for equality. So that when he’s confronted with racism among peers or elsewhere in society, he will look to their hearts first with understanding and compassion.
I can’t change the world. But I can influence one member of the next generation by how I raise him. That is how I honor heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all those he spoke on behalf of. That is how I honor my country. And that is how I honor God.
May peace be with you this day and all others.
GoodLiving Magazine is printed six times a year for families in Pinellas County, Florida, home to municipalities including Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Largo and St. Petersburg. The densest county in Florida, population is near 1 Million people. Past issues are available for viewing digitally on the website.
As an advocate for children and families, Pamela Settle serves as the local committee chairperson for The Children’s Movement of Florida, a non-partisan advocacy organization that works on behalf of the well being of children throughout the State of Florida.