A tale of two Sams and Black History Month
When my son Zach started kindergarten, he made friends with two boys named Sam. One day in September, as we walked home from school, I interrupted his report on a particularly complex game of tag to ask which Sam was involved. "Sam from 101," he said, referring to the boy's homeroom. I felt a pang of guilt because in my mind I had unconsciously categorized them as "black Sam" and "white Sam" and had expected my son to do the same.
My 5-year-old still saw the world through rose-tinted glasses where we are all the same color, but I had to learn to differentiate them as Sam from 101 and Sam from 102.
I'm a big supporter of Black History Month. I believe in celebrating every culture in this wonderfully diverse society. Yet when I look at my young son, I find myself wishing to postpone the day when he loses that rosy view of the world - to hold on just a bit longer to an innocence that seems to pass so quickly.
Last February the kindergarten class put together a play about Rosa Parks for Black History Month, and Zach was called upon to be a racist on the bus. At the same time, I noticed whenever he summed up the day's African-American History Month lesson he often followed up with, "But lots of white people supported Dr. King, too, right?" I reassured him that his grandparents marched with Dr. King, they had fought for open housing in our all-white suburb, and both his father and I had worked to elect the first African-American mayor of our city.
He seemed so eager to hear this that I wondered whether it bothered him to have to pretend to abuse his friends every day in rehearsal. But when I asked him he said no, he only wished he had more lines. "It's not fair that Tessa gets to be the policeman, and I only stare out the window," he said resentfully.
All of this laid the groundwork for a lot of discussion at the dinner table, and afforded us the opportunity to talk about important values we want to instill in our son.
But I still had a nagging feeling we were tearing something down prematurely, because Zach seemed to be naturally color blind. "What happens if you have a white mom and a black dad?" he asked me one night after one of these talks. I pointed out two sets of friends who fit this description - whom he sees often. But he'd never noticed that one parent was black and the other white.