The way our life is set up, living in Austin, my son stays being the only black kid. The only black kid on our street. The only black kid in class. Because of his unique needs and challenges we enrolled him, mid-year, in an Austin school for gifted kids. He's the only black student at the school. Although there may be a preschooler and a middle schooler with either one black parent or they're just very dark or Jewish. My point is, he's the only one in elementary.
Zack brought home this splash art he made at school last week. I framed it as soon as we got home. (I keep a stash of IKEA frames. It was a sickness. I'm in recovery.) He creates inspired art all the time, and I put it on the walls of our house, but this is the first one to get IKEA-framed. It says "Ruby is awesome" referring to Ruby Bridges. He said he couldn't imagine being the only black kid in school and everyone hating him, because everybody really likes him at his school. Hearing him say this, knowing that he's learning what it means that he's even at that school, is heartbreaking. I didn't really grasp racism until I was much older than he is now. Already, he has made the connection between Ruby Bridges age and his grandparents. He asked if my parents were segregated and asked about grandparents of a few of his white friends. He didn't ask if they were racist. He asked if they were free. My heart broke.
He's becoming acutely aware of "them" and "us". To overhearing racist accounts on news media and conversations, he commonly says, "That's ridiculous" or "How does that even make sense" or "How is that fair" or he'll list his favorite athletes as examples of awesome black people and ask who could hate LeBron or Serena. Which reminds me, once he asked me what it means to play or run or hit "like a girl" and I explained to him how (and why) it's used as an insult to masculinity. This boy said, "Um....have they seen Serena Williams?!) I giggled. I digress.
Now that he's learning about racism at nine years old, my little baby questions whether he's experiencing racism or not, when playing with white friends. Someone called him poop, and he asked me if it was because he's brown. He actually asked me if the kid is racist. Of course he's not. I never thought I'd ever wish my kid could just be called poop and have his feelings regular-hurt versus soul-hurt.
This is the hard part--the bonus job parents of black children have to deal with; helping them navigate the unique innocence lost as they learn about what it means to be black in America, knowing that it gives them gravity and hoping it doesn't chip away at their joy. I'm so sad that he's leaving the blissful ignorance of childhood behind. Yet, I'm glad that he experiences love from white people and joy in white spaces. Growing up with an up close reality that counters the ugly, at large reality will at least give him a more hopeful, optimistic outlook on the future of racism in America.
Hopefully his optimism will rub off on me.