There are just some parenting moments that shine such a bright and clear light on a subject. These moments can illiminate from an angle that is fresh and revealing. We had just such a moment this week.

After dinner one night Grace began telling us what she had learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in school this week. She told us that he tried to “help black and white people be together.” And she also explained that “black people couldn't drink out of water fountains and they couldn't go to the park.” She was very incredulous about all this – like “Can you believe that?” Then she explained that some people hated him for trying to get people together and they shot him and he died. So I asked her what she thought of all that, just curious to understand how she would process such a grown up story.

She crinkled her brow and said, “Do you mean what did they teach me?” And I explained that I really wanted to know what she was thinking when she found out that black kids used to not be allowed in the parks. She said that she thought that was “really bad.” She went on to say that we are all the same on the inside and that everyone should be able to go to the park!

By this time we had been talking for a while. She was explaining such a grown up concept and doing a good job of processing it for a five year old. I am amazed at how capable they are to take in the harshness of the world without being overwhelmed. And then she asked me something that just stopped me in my tracks. She said, “So mommy, what is it that makes a black person black? Is it black hair?”

I asked her then, “Honey, are you asking me what we mean when we say black people? Are you saying you don't know?” To which she replied, “Well, it's black hair, right?”

All my baby knew is that there was some random characteristic that we picked out and her first thought was hair? Maybe?

I talked to her about some of our friends that are black, friends she has known her entire life. We talked about how there are so many shades of skin, and black can mean a whole lot of shades, just like white can mean different shades. She went on from there to inquire about green people, and I knew the teachable moment had passed and she was moving on.

But I couldn't move on. “Is it black hair? It's black hair, right?”

And all I could think is, “It could have been.”

Because it could have been, right? Prejudice shows up in so many random and vicious ways, but it always boils down to some arbitrary characteristic that we just decide is the difference.

And when I look at my beautiful, innocent five year old explaining evil to me, but then fall short of understanding something none of us truly understands…I weep.

Honey, I pray you grow up in a world that continues to try to move away from intolerance, prejudice, and hate. I pray that you always look at this part of our past in disbelief. I pray that you vow to be better than we are. Because this dream of Dr. King is not realized. It is progressed and it is progressing, but it is not realized. I pray that your generation takes majestic steps forward, where we have crept. I pray you all have breakthroughs that alter the course of history, where ours have only shifted it, sometimes forward.

I pray that you can talk openly with your black friends about the past in healthy ways that move you both forward. I pray that we raise you to acknowledge you are afforded a pervasive and systematic privilege that is still today, denied to many – and I pray that you help expose and spread that privilege. I pray that you are forgiven when you fall short and that you extend forgiveness when others fall short. Because that will happen – such a subject as race in our country, it is rife with hurt.

I pray that your generation can find forgiveness for all that is left to be done. Forgive us all of our failings and false attempts. I pray that you can find the path to run forward together and realize all that Dr. King dreamed of, all of it. Resolve our racial differences and then carry his torch to impact poverty in our country. This is what I pray.

Mostly though – I pray you never reach a point of understanding when it comes to evil. Evil understood is evil consumed. May you always, always be baffled by it.

May your innocence grow into compassion, empathy, and kindness.



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