“Mommy?” The Princess had her serious question face on as she leaned in close to me while we watched an episode of The Fairly Odd Parents.
“Are we black or white?”
“Huh? What are you talking about, Princess?” The question caught me totally off guard, so I had to stall to figure out how to best answer the follow-up questions sure to ensue.
“I mean our skin. Are we black or white?”
“We’re black, Sweetie.”
“But our skin is brown.”
“Yes, it is, but we are still considered black.”
“Mommy, but that lady on the wall at school went to jail because she sat in the seat that was supposed to be for somebody else. That wasn’t very nice, right? She shouldn’t have sat in someone else’s seat.”
I never had conversations about race with my children. I have close friends who vary in race, age, and lifestyle. I love them, and they love me. We share experiences and stories that connect us as human beings. But I could tell that my baby had a very misguided understanding of her history, and that needed correction.
“Princess, is it right for me to give you cake after dinner but not your sister just because you are taller than she is?”
“No, Mommy. That’s ridiculous.”
“Well, a long time ago, when Rosa Parks, the woman on the wall at your school, was a working woman, some people made her and people with skin like hers sit at the back of the bus or stand up on the bus so that people with white skin could sit down even if they were there first.”
“But Mommy, that’s not very nice.”
“No, it isn’t, and when she refused to stand up one day…”
“Because she was tired from working all day?”
“Right , Baby,” the story was starting to come together for her, “they put her in jail.”
“But, Mommy, why would they do that to her?”
“They did it because they believed that black people didn’t deserve the same things that white people deserved.”
The perplexed look on her face made me want to cry. How could I explain this to her in a way that would help her grasp the injustice of it all without causing her to fear this same injustice herself at five-years-old?
“Are we mean to people just because of the way they look?”
“Mommy, that’s crazy talk! We’re not supposed to be mean to anybody.”
“That’s right, and can we be friends with people who look differently than we do?”
“Yes, Mommy. None of my friends look like me. We’re not twins!”
“That’s all you need to remember, right now.”
For a few moments, she was quiet and thinking.
“Is black skin bad or something?”
“No, Baby. It isn’t. You are beautiful and talented and worthy of everything great the world has to offer, and don’t you ever let anybody make you feel otherwise.”