I was sitting with the African American Mom of a preschooler and we were chatting about kid things. Her family had recently moved and her four year-old son had just begun attending a new preschool. I am White. She was saying that the curriculum and routine were quite similar at both schools, something that had influenced her choice, hoping to ease her child’s adjustment.
There was one significant difference between the schools, however. At the former school all of the children were Black, and at the new school all the children, except her son, were white. Just that morning her child was exposed to a racial slur for the first time. Her little boy was hurt, frightened, and confused.
I realized at that moment, with all the efforts we make in combating racism, both individual and corporate: every White American should be confronted with the pain on the face of a Black parent who is confronted with the pain of her child who, for the first time, is told there is something intrinsic to him or her that is considered unworthy.
Then this beautiful little boy asked me if I had some special soap that would make him look like his new classmates. Or like me. Since at the time he was using a pen on a drawing pad, I asked him if he knew what would happen if he kept drawing and his pen ran out of ink. “It would only make white lines”, he said. While I’ve never been totally happy with my response, I told him that’s what happened when God made White people. “God ran out of ink”, I said.
African-American parents are constantly forced to deal with their children’s hurt, to support and empower them out of internalizing ignorance and hatred. We white people, however – we’ve got to do better than this.