you've got to be carefully taught
you've got to be carefully taught
Natalie saw a movie on the KKK in school yesterday. She came home with a million questions, most of them sounding very much like "what the hell is wrong with people?"
She has known of the existence of the KKK for a while, ever since she was six and asked if she could wear one of those "white-hooded costumes" she saw on CNN for Halloween. When I explained what those costumes stood for, in the best way you can explain such things to a six year old, she cried. She spent the next several days fearful, looking over her shoulder at every corner. She was afraid the KKK was coming to get her. She couldn't justify this fear, it was just there.
So six years later, she wants to talk about it again. She is no longer afraid, she is just angered and bewildered. She hears other kids in her class talking in a way that scares her, and I explain that they are probably just emulating what they hear from older siblings or, sadly, their parents, and hopefully they will change their tune one day. "People never change," she says to me. "I think once you grow up like that, to think that, you believe it your whole life." She then asks about the children of racists, if they are taught to believe the things their parents do. Most children are brought up to believe the things their parents do, I tell her. If a parent believes they are absolutely right in their belief, they pass that belief on to their children. It's how some kids learn to hate rather than love.
"Well, I just wanted you to know that I got into a fight today over it." I say nothing. She interprets my silence as a cue to go on. "Danny Avery said that white people are better than black people."
"Didn't Danny Avery also say that last year, in 5th grade?" I ask.
"Yea, but I didn't say anything to him then. I just walked away."
"So what did you do this time?"
"I told him to prove it to me. And he just stood there and looked at me funny. And then he just repeated himself, like, (she makes herself sound like a slightly stupid 12 year old boy here) ohhh white people are better, just know that, ok? and so I said if he thinks that then maybe he should take off the Bernie Williams shirt he was wearing and get like, a Chuck Knoblauch shirt."
"Chuck Knoblauch??" I say, incredulous.
"It was all I could think of. I know, lame."
"So what did he say?"
"He called me an idiot and then he like, got up off of his chair and it looked like he was going to come after me but he was faking me out, and then I just said he had a lot to learn about life and I left to go to band."
"Good, you handled it ok, Nat."
We drive in silence for a few more minutes. Then I hear her say something.
"What, I didn't hear you."
"I said I'm sorry."
"For that time in first grade when I wanted to be the KKK for halloween. I didn't know."
"It's ok. You know now. Even better, you understand." I think how proud I am of her for going from fearing racists to wanting to fight them. Dangerous, yes. But in my own strange way of parenting, I'm proud of that.
Sometimes I look at her when she is acting like a true pre-teen girl, whining and crying one minute and screaming in anger the next, dramatic and annoying and so self-involved it's scary. I think about the other moments, the moments like the above conversation and it makes me think there's hope. That she won't always be this gum-cracking, smartass girl who thinks the world revolves around her. Somewhere in there, is a really good hearted young adult waiting to get out.