My son recently saw the movie Space Jam, and has been a little obsessed with Michael Jordan ever since. This is ok with me. I’d rather he be interested in basketball than almost any other sport. (Well, almost – today he expressed an interest in becoming a race car driver, and I had to discourage that even though I could talk to him about open-wheel racing and my history of following it for a couple of decades for hours).
Every week I have him, he wants to talk about who is the better basketball player, LeBron or MJ. I tell him I think LeBron is, because I’ve actually seen him play ball in person and it’s amazing, and what he saw in Space Jam is just a movie and may not represent real life. But that MJ was really, really good too, and it’s ok to like both. He says he likes both the Cavs and the Bulls, even though he knows Jordan doesn’t play for the Bulls anymore. This is also fine. I don’t give much of a shit at all about any sports, or who you root for, or why.
My son’s best friend at school is African-American. There aren’t a ton of black kids in his school. It’s predominantly white, with a large 2nd group being Asian Indian – there are almost as many Indian children in his class as white kids. But fewer blacks, generally, throughout the school. I like that he’s this kid’s friend. The only reason he’s ever wanted to take swim classes in the three years or so I’ve had him in swim classes was because another friend of his from school was taking them, a kid his age who is also black, who is a giant next to my kid, who is admittedly a shrimp. And whose Mom is white, which prompted some good discussions about the diversity of families. My son told me more than once how he was envious of how “big” his friend from swim class is, and I pointed out everyone has problems you don’t know about, and from talking to his Mom during class, I learned the kid has a bunch of allergies and is on all kinds of medication. Everyone has something going on.
When he was in preschool, his best friend was black. I didn’t know until a holiday party at the school that the kid was apparently also the son of some prominent local football player (a former Browns player), as the guy showed up to the party and some people were talking about it. When the player took a job with another team out of state and his friend had to move away, it was one of the first sad events of my son’s young life. He doesn’t remember the kid at all now, though he swore, crying, when he left, that he would never forget him.
For whatever reason, mostly probably because he is MY son and is aware of his own sexuality at a very early age, he has a “type” of girl and he is very specific about the girls he thinks are cute – pale blondes with long hair. He has said more than once that he doesn’t find “brown” girls attractive. That’s ok as well. We all have types we prefer, and whatever type we prefer in first grade, I can tell you from experience, definitely doesn’t always represent what type you might like later on.
But today he said something interesting. He wanted to know if “brown” people like Michael Jordan were “just as good” as white people. I have no idea where that stemmed from, and he asked it honestly and earnestly, not with any judgement or negativity.
I tried to answer carefully and honestly and used it as an opportunity. I try not to shove race down his face one direction or another but I basically said that historically, America hasn’t always been kind or fair to “brown people,” who sometimes prefer to be called African-American or black, but who also mean Native Americans or anyone else who is different and from another country originally, but that we would not be the country we are today in a million ways without all of their contributions. That yes, they are exactly like us, but that they have a different skin color. I mentioned a couple of people of color who have contributed major things to America. I also pointed out for him what I’ve told him before, that he hasn’t yet had a ton of experience with – that with his Greek blood, he will always be slightly different colored than the other white kids he goes to school with. When I was growing up, and the girls would compare the tans on their arms to see who was darker, it was like I was a different color than everyone else all together. They were shades of tan and gold, and I was…GREEN. Or some kind of greenish-yellow that just deepened into a darker greenish-yellow, the more tan I got. So he is also different, as are we all. I said everyone really has a different color of skin because we are from so many different backgrounds, so what color our skin is doesn’t really matter. We are all the same underneath.
I reminded him that for these last, golden months, our country’s leader, the President, is also black – the man who signed the card that hangs on the wall of his room, a Presidential birth announcement acknowledgment that fills me with happiness and pride every time I see it. Even though my son argued with me vehemently only a couple of years ago that Mom, you are wrong, the LADY he saw regularly on TV was the president, not Mr. Obama. Which is also a great thing.
And so there you see how children do not know about sexism or racism until you teach it to them. I’m repeating photos for today’s blog, as they seem most appropriate today.
There’s my lesson of love for you today, this Valentine’s Day.