There is one peach color among all of the crayons. I’m at school working with some students on coloring a picture of a boy. There are at least 6 shades of brown, tan, and something called “coffee grounds” in front of my student. She looks perplexed.
Me: “Honey, why don’t you use one of these to color in your boy?”
Student “But I’m coloring an American”
Me: “You can still use another color. Americans come in all different colors.”
Student: (looking confused) “But I’m drawing a good American.”
What?! My jaw hangs open while I try to gain some composure. I explain to her that good American people come in many colors. I ask if she thinks that Hispanic people or African American people are not “good” somehow. I’m not just a teacher. I’m a mom. I am the adoptive white mom of Hispanic children.
Is she racist 8-year-old? I don’t think so. This is obviously an interpretation she has garnered from what is being said around her. We, as adults, must be careful with the message we are sending our youth.
Maybe it isn’t outright racist comments. Maybe she’s hearing the “Black Lives Matter” movement retorted with “All Lives Matter.” You can justify this to yourself, but a child will see the truth. A child sees it as a denouncement of black lives actually mattering. I’m sure there’s more. In a culture that professes anxiety about the growing number of hispanics, or “dangerous immigrants” in our country, what message are we really sending to our kids? Is she hearing concerns about American Muslims? Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things.
Children are concrete thinkers. They hear the truth behind rhetoric couched in “nationalist” terms. They hear the fear mongering about people of darker skin colors. They hear presidential candidates who want us to fear what is different, what is “other.” Being afraid of differences is harming our culture in so many ways.
As the mother of brown children, I worry. “No,” I tell my Puerto Rican son, “You can’t have the toy gun. Choose another toy.” Is it because I’m anti-gun? Because I don’t want children to play hunting games or Wild West adventures? No. It’s because my son is a darker skinned Hispanic boy. I’m afraid that somehow, somewhere outside of our small town, an officer might mistake his toy for the real thing. I won’t take any chances with him.
My husband and I spend extra time with our kids discussing how to speak to an officer. How to be respectful of the police if they ever stop you. How to explain every physical movement before you make it. How to avoid being shot. We do this, not because we think police are all bad, but because we are afraid. So we practice. Just in case.
My husband is a paramedic in our town. Everyone knows everyone else here. It’s a wonderful community and we feel safe. When I get pulled over I feel safe. I chat with the officer freely and never think twice about reaching into the glove box. I’m not sure if that’s due to the safety of our little town or the privilege of my white skin. Either way, I want this safe feeling for my kids.
Will our children be subject to discriminatory “stop-and-frisk” policing? Will they grow up to face unfair voter laws which smack of Jim Crow laws to me? I’m not asking about my kids. I’m asking about all of our “good” American children.
Every time I hear rhetoric about “dangerous” Mexicans I get worried. I can’t help it. A country afraid of its brown people isn’t a country that I want my kids to grow up in. I can’t understand the things they might face. The preconceived notions or subtle racism they will experience. I can’t understand it because I’ve never experienced it. It is lucky that I’m raising children with a Hispanic husband. He will understand in ways I may never fully grasp. I’m a product of the white privilege I didn’t even realize I grew up with.
It brings me back to thinking about America. What makes a “good” American? Think about it. Is it hard work? Patriotism? What about simply being “good” to others? I believe our country is stronger for its diversity.
No matter what side of the political fence you’re on, please be careful. You’re children are listening when you speak. A good American comes in many colors. A good American sees the good in others. A truly good American cares for all of the citizens in our country.
Are you a “good” American? Either way, you’re children are listening.