If only we could go back to feeling and thinking like children…somewhere along the way, in the process of growing up and growing supposedly wiser, we lose empathy, we lose our ability to look at each other as just human beings like our selves. Children think so often with their hearts, their sense of justice is well defined, they are agnostic to shades and colors of the skin, to rich and poor…which socialization and supposed education eventually teaches them.
Last evening we read a beautifully written and illustrated book about Martin Luther King Jr. called Martin’s Big Words. A biography of the great man, told in simple words and with powerful collage based illustrations, this was a wonderful book to continue our conversation on the civil rights movement which we had dipped our toes into when we read Follow The Drinking Gourd a few months ago. Nish’s reaction to the story was almost visceral. I could see him looking upset at a point when I explained as simply as I could what segregation was and by the time we reached the place where Rosa Parks was asked to give up her seat on the bus, he burst into tears and stood up saying, “but everyone is a person! Why could the white people not sit at the back? And why did they have to make her get up!!!!” He was very upset and we paused in the narrative to allow him some time to calm down. The tears continued to flow as we read about MLK’s work and his non-violent approach. Nish could not wrap his head around the fact that people were being treated the way they were and it was heart breaking to see him grapple with his initial brush with identities and concepts of power. And although the book ended with the White Only signs coming down, he was still upset and disturbed that this could have been a reality not so long ago.
And yet it took so long for an educated people to see, understand and respect something that an almost 6 year old could do so instinctively…and we probably have not understood or truly embraced this respect for people no matter who they are, where they come from, the color of their skin and type of their hair.
As a mother, it broke my heart to see him burst into tears and very obviously be disturbed by something, and at the same time, I felt proud of this child who had his heart in the right place, who recognized people for who they were…and it showed me once again just how much we have to learn from our children.
Sid’s key take-away from the book was: I guess I would not have got a seat on the bus back then huh?
Yes – I guess he continues to grapple with that gorgeous brown of his skin in a society which places a premium on chubby fair faced rosy cheeked children.