Twenty-eight years ago, my dad gave me a bath the night before I started kindergarten. I remember two baths from my dad really clearly from hundreds that he likely gave.
The first bath I remember is one in which he tried to scrub off a mole cluster on my left arm thinking was dirt. It’s still there.
The second bath was the pre-kindergarten bath. My dad told me that there might be kids in my class who looked different from me. He might have said more about that, but I don’t remember it. Then he said that there might be other people, other kids, who would say things to be mean about people who looked or seemed different. Not only was I not to join into that meanness, my father warned, but I was to stick up for kids who were singled out or picked on. If my dad heard about me doing otherwise, it would be big trouble for me.
I remember this conversation clearly because part of my personality involves playing and re-playing shoulds and should nots over and over in my head.
My own child is about to become a kindergartner. I went to kindergarten in North Carolina, in the mid-eighties, and my kindergarten teacher was black.
My son is going to kindergarten in Anchorage, Alaska in 2014. He is entering school a long way from Ferguson, Missouri and Sanford, Florida. His preschool class had children from a wide variety of backgrounds. Nevertheless, what should I say to my kindergartner-to-be on the night before school starts? What do I tell him in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting? What do I tell my white son, with two white parents, about his situation, his privileges, his responsibilities?
You have been able to drink juice in the store, eat cookies, get balloons, and hold your toys without anyone looking askance at you or me. It’s because we’re white.
We have played on playgrounds in different neighborhoods, run through the woods, tried before paying, and been given the benefit of the doubt. It’s mostly because we’re white.
We have books with people who look like us, movies of people who sound like us, pictures of things that we do, CDs of songs we sing- none of which were hard to find. It’s because we’re white.
In the world, you will get second chances, encouragement, recommendations, and help. Even if you are shut down, something else will come about for you. It’s part of what it means to be white in America.
My darling, it is not that I don’t want these things for you. I do and I will fight for this to be your world.
I’m tell you this because I want these things for your friends too. I want these for black and Samoan and Alaska Native boys and girls who will attend school with you. I want these things for children in Missouri and Florida and Texas and California and across the country.
I want you to all have the freedom to be children, to know that community is there for you, to grow up knowing that you too contribute, are valued, matter, influence decisions for peace, safety, and a future.
In kindergarten, just like in preschool, there will be kids who don’t look like you. You won’t look like them. Their moms and dads think they are special, just like I think you are special. You are all at school to learn.
If another person- a kid or a grown-up- is not kind to a kid, if you see something that isn’t right, is scary, or unkind- you can tell me or Daddy or Nana or Uncle D. We will help you. We will believe you. We care about you and your friends.
The bigger we get, the more we learn about other people and other places. The bigger we get, the more we have to do to work together with other people. The bigger we get, the more we realize that we have run out of people to tell and the work of repairing injustice, unkindness, fear is in our hands.
That’s not your work just yet.
But that’s Mommy’s work. My work.
No, it’s not because I’m white. It’s because I’m human.
Inspired by T. Denise Anderson: http://soulascriptura.com/2014/08/watching-our-step-a-blues-for-michael-brown/