My area is white. Really, really white. We ended up here by sheer coincidence when we were looking for a place to live. It was a happy coincidence, though. My sister lives in this area and the school system is the best around This was a really great thing since William was a little behind when he started kindergarten. All the smarts were there, but he needed a little extra help. And, he got it there.
I was really worried at the beginning. There was only one other black child in his class and his grade.
That made him very different. But, for the most part, there turned out not to be much reason to worry.
One day, though, on the playground, a child told him that he couldn’t climb on some of the playground equipment because he was brown. To their credit, everyone at the school took it seriously and handled it well. I got a call from the principal, advising me of the situation, apologizing, and letting me know that he would handle it. The child was talked to, at length, and had to write an apology letter. William moved on and I held a grudge against a 5 year old for a year. I didn’t say I handled it well. : )
There was one other comment that he should be going to a black school (ugh). But, then I never heard anything else from William about any problems at school due to his race.
Until the other day…
Driving home from the store, William blurts out, “At school, someone said I look like poop, because I’m black.”
I started with the popular, but not overly helpful, “Are you poop?”
“Well, there you go.”
Then I started trying to think of something more helpful to say.
I later kind of wished that I had told him to tell them that they look like bird poop because they’re white. (Brian’s mostly joking, initial response to me, when I told him. haha) But, I suppose that wouldn’t have been appropriate.
Then he goes on. “And, sometimes, people say I’m not as good because I’m black. In kindergarten, they said I should go to a black school. And most of the kids there are white.”
I started trying to cover all the angles. Kids can sometimes be mean, but they will learn to be nicer. You have every right to be there. It’s just a color and it’s a beautiful color. Yes, there are more white kids; doesn’t make them better, just means there are more of them. How you feel now is why it’s so important that you never treat people this way. etc. etc.
I discussed one of the most challenging things he’ll face while navigating traffic on a busy road.
William doesn’t like discussing serious topics. This is why the heart-to-heart from the other day/two blogs ago was evcn more significant. When we try to explain something serious to him, we usually end it with, “Do you have any questions? Anything you don’t understand?” William will almost always say yes and then ask some version of why the sky is blue.
I really couldn’t believe he was bringing it up at all. (I also couldn’t believe he was waiting until summer when I couldn’t do anything about it…)
At the end of my hopefully inspirational, but more likely, rambling speech, he says “Mom?”
“Yes?” I say, anxiously, wondering what else he will share.
“How about we move on from this?”
“Ok” I say, totally confused, but I guess we were done.
He then asked me to turn the music back up. He sang along, happily.
This was so William.
It’s so hard to get in his head. So, I might never know if I effectively reassured him, if he shut down as a defense mechanism, or if he just got bored and wanted to hear the music. Maybe a combination of all three?
William is different, in so many ways and it’s something he’s going to have to deal with. Ironically, if you get him talking about it, the fact that he’s small seems to bother him more than anything else. (Antwan is only 3 pounds less than him but 4 years younger.)
From the beginning, we’ve tried to instill pride in his color. We bought books about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. We’ve talked about his skin and how pretty it is. We’ve even talked about how lucky he is that he is unlikely to ever get lice. ( :
I often wonder when Antwan and Lizzie will figure out that they’re black or understand what it means to be adopted.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to grow up black. Or what it’s going to be like to grow up with a couple of goofy, white parents. But, they are and they’re going to. ( : But, the one thing I know is that we’re the Parkers, for better or worse. (See! I’m goofy!) The good news is, it’s mostly the better!