I tried to talk to the kids a little bit about Martin Luther King, Jr. I hesitated to do it because they're so young to be told about things like assassination and political violence. But they are old enough to have a basic grasp of right and wrong, so I gave it a go.
Me: You remember what I told you earlier this morning about today?
Me: Today is a holiday, so there's no school and no mail. Do you remember why?
Daniel: Because we're celebrating the birthday of someone who lived a long time ago.
Me: Well, not THAT long ago, about 50 years ago. But do you remember why we celebrate his birthday?
Daniel: Because he worked really hard to...I don't really remember.
Me: You're right. He worked really hard to bring equal rights for everyone. It used to be that only people who look like us with pale skin were allowed to vote and go to certain schools. And it wasn't fair, so this man, Martin Luther King Jr., worked really hard to make things fair. He went to jail for it.
Daniel: He went to JAIL?
Me: Yes, but he wasn't doing bad things. He was trying to make life more fair for everyone.
Then I told him that MLK was shot and killed for what he did, even though he himself never used guns or knives to prove his point. I said that he would get lots of people together to march in the streets and sing about freedom and equality. It was about this time that Daniel lost interest in the conversation and made some random, totally irrelevant observation about the kitchen light. (Anya didn't really pay attention to any of the conversation; I think it's too abstract for her at this age.) That's as far as I went, and for a kid who's not quite five years old, I was surprised he paid attention for that long.
This is a difficult topic, one that I don't know how to address very well at all. I think it's important for my children to understand some things. For instance: they come from a position of distinct privilege (white, middle-class, parents with a whole lot of higher education - you might say excess in my case). They need to be aware of racism and inequalities and unfairness. I do think it's important to learn about these things from their parents, lest they grow up to believe that we are oblivious to these social problems. Or worse, that we think racism ended with the election of Barack Obama.
Can you tell I'm uncomfortable with this topic? I'm afraid if I try to say anything meaningful, it will come out as trite and patronizing, if not downright insulting.
I need some help here, though. As my children grow older, I feel like I need to have more conversations with them about racism and inequalities and unfairness in our society and culture, and I don't know how to do this adequately. Just to say "It's wrong" isn't nearly good enough. So, readers, I turn to you. What do you tell your children? How do you address these topics?