This morning, I once again found myself in the mad dash to get my baby out of the door. It’s an ambitious dash, to say the least. I have to get her ready, out the door, lunch in hand, bookbag emptied and re-packed to look like it had been done carefully the night before, all in the span of approximately three minutes. There is not a lot of time to spare. Yes, I could empty her bookbag the night before, but I don’t. I’m too busy doing things that I was supposed to take care of the morning/evening/hour before. So the homework and schoolwork that I should be giving a lot of attention to, really just gets a quick glance over between 8:46 and 8:47 am every morning. What can I say? It’s only kindergarten.
Anyway, today I pulled out her work from the day before and I see Martin Luther King’s face. That’s right; it’s almost Dr. King’s birthday. As I am remembering this very fact, Leila says “Mommy, is it true that that man changed things because people with skin like you had to sit in the back of the bus and people with skin like me could sit in the front?” I am flooded with guilt for not teaching my baby about Dr. King before her school did. After all, my family was full of activists; shouldn’t she just have some institutional knowledge about civil rights already built in? I went to an HBCU, dammit! Isn’t that sort of knowledge passed through the cord? And even if it is not, I can’t help but feel like I was supposed to teach her this anyway. “Yes, I would be in the back of the bus”, I say to her, and she would have had to sit in the back of the bus with me, but Dr. King changed all of that. I told her that people of color used to get treated very poorly. “Unfairly, Mommy”, she says with such definitive expertise. “People with skin like yours were treated unfairly“. “That’s true,” I tell her. “People of color couldn’t eat in the same places as others, or drink from the same fountains. Do you know that it used to be crime for people with different skin to even love each other? So your Daddy and Mommy would not have even been able to love each other and make a Leila? Thank God that is different now, right?” “Thank GOD!”, she says. Then as we walk to school she tells me she’s only “a lil’ bit African American”. And I count it as growth that that does not offend me. Because the truth is, she is right. She is a little bit of me, and a little bit of john. And I guess I have to accept that we do have different skin. “Yes, Pumpkin. You are African American and Hispanic” I tell her. “I should know more about my Spanish, Mommy. I only know a little bit about Spanish because we only learn a little bit in Spanish class and we say the same words over and over again!” “Mommy has to do better to teach you about your Spanish, Pump,” I tell her. For the first time it dawns on me that I don’t have an obligation to teach her about her black side, I have to teach her about her whole self. The Black and the Spanish. The Spanish and the White. It’s all in there, making her her. She has been aware of it longer than I have wanted to acknowledge it, and none of it is making her any less anything than the other. And maybe that is some of the legacy of Dr. King and his effort. After all, if we are all created equal, then maybe I have to give all equal importance.