What Do I Teach You About Race?

Dear Dumplin,

I’ve been thinking a lot about race and what I should teach you about it.  My first instinct is not to think about it until I absolutely have to.  The above video featuring a TED Talk with Mellody Hobson made me realize that this is a discussion I cannot hide from.  I discovered this video while perusing Clutch Magazine and it reminded me that in America, differences in race can be pointed out very early in life, and in the most unsuspecting circumstances.

My earliest memory of being racially different was in the first grade.  I remember going to the same day camp as a family friend.  Our parents had been friends and both had young daughters.  During free time, everyone ran off into groups to play their favorite game.  I decided I wanted to play hide and seek with a bunch of kids I saw.  I went over to one of them and asked if I could play.  He said no.  I asked why.  He said because I wasn’t light enough.  I turned my hand over and pointed to the inside of my hand and said, “I’m lighter here.”  He turned my hand back over and said, “but you’re not light here” and pointed to the top of my hand.

During that same year your grandmother decided to put me in private school.  Apparently, none of the kids in my class could read except for me.  The teacher thought I was a problem because she could not entertain me the way she did the other children.  My mother saw that this would hold back my growth and immediately took steps for me to change schools.

In the second grade, I started private school at a largely affluent all white school on the East Side of Manhattan.  I attended this school from the second grade to the eighth grade.  Every year I was the only black person in my class.  There were only 3 black girls in the entire all girls school.  The other two young ladies were years older than me.  The trade off?  Not only was I encouraged to read to my heart’s content, but I took classes in French, Latin, World History, English, Math, and many others.  I took amazing class trips.  Mediocracy was unheard of in this school.  I remember one year having to write a term paper about a French topic in French!  (The funny thing is I speak absolutely no French now.)

The downside to this excellent education?  I was an anamoly every day.  Every day I was strange.  But here’s what you must know.  Racism is learned.  It must be taught.  People aren’t born with these weird notions about behavior based on appearances.  My classmates treated me fairly, and I had lots of friends and playdates.  The teachers?  The parents?  That’s an entirely different story.

By the time you are old enough to understand what any of this means, I hope this country is much further along in its race discussion.  You are blessed to live in a melting pot where you can learn and immerse yourself in any culture you like.  Ignorance is not an excuse to treat people poorly.  Besides that, learning about cultures throughout the world is fun!

What does all of this mean for you?  I have no idea.  Just know that I’m doing my best.  And despite what anyone may tell you, and just like Mellody’s mom told her, you CAN do anything.  ANYTHING AT ALL.

Love,

Mama

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