“Racism” in First Grade

Today I took little dude to a 5-year-old birthday party. Most of the kids in his pre-K class were there. About twelve to fifteen adults were native Spanish speakers; three of us were white; two were African American.

At the same time, Laura was on birthday party duty with CM, attending the festivities for a classmate. The 7-year-olds were supervised by a room full of about 50% white, and 50% Middle Eastern, Latino/a, and African American.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In our San Francisco world, “normal” means racially mixed company.

Perhaps this feeds my dissatisfaction with CM coming home from first grade on Friday all prepped for MLKJ day with a new vocabulary word: “racism.”

It’s not that the topic isn’t important. It’s not that MLKJ Day isn’t a crucial time to talk about issues of race and the struggles our country has had and continues to have. But I wonder if MLKJ’s memory might not be better honored by my first-grader celebrating the diversity that she lives in every day (her class is, at most, 1/3 white) rather than giving her a category for people whose destructive prejudice have marred, and continue to mar, the social fabric of our country?

So that’s my honest question for debate as we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. today: is his memory best honored by teaching our young children about the full darkness of racism upon which King shone his light? or is it better honored by celebrating with our young children the reality that he saw and that they are, in many ways, living into?

I am aware that questions of race strike deeply at the heart of many people’s identity. So please be aware of that and, as you my awesome readers often do so well here, let’s make sure we keep the conversation civil and constructive even if/as we disagree.

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