Right off the bat: I’m Armenian—bless the Kardashians for giving the country name recognition—and fit the stereotype to a tee: olive skin, dark brown eyes and hair, and the proverbial big nose. Oh, old now and gray-haired.
One summer, my family spent two weeks at the Jersey shore, and I took to all that sun, sand, and ocean like any other 10-year-old kid. Loved splashing about and trying to dig my way to China. All that changed, though, as our vacation wound down, and we went out for dinner. At least we tried to…
The restaurant hostess barred us from entering. That’s right, and all because of me. My olive complexion had deepened to a dark chocolate under the seaside sun…
Long story short, we turned around and left, and I never forget, never got over it. Not ever.
Took that day’s lesson to heart and carried it with me even into my middle school classroom, teaching my eighth graders about the Black experience, including excerpts from Alex Haley’s Roots, our slave-owning forefathers, the KKK, lynchings, Jim Crow laws, segregated schools, and on to the civil rights movement.
First, though, a prejudice survey asking such questions as:
- The house next door is sold to a Black family. ~ Okay/not okay with you? How about your folks?
- A Black female surgeon is to perform your parent’s open-heart surgery. ~ Okay/not okay with you? How about your folks?
- Your sibling starts dating a fellow Black student. ~ Okay/not okay with you? How about your folks?
Generated lots of talk and a realization that we owe much of our pre-judging to our parents. Case in point, a Mike Ramirez cartoon depicting two dads, one Black, one White, each pushing their kid in a stroller. As the adults eye each other suspiciously, seeing only skin color, the kids reach out for each other…
Coupled that with the African folktale, “Why the Frog and Snake Never Play Together.”
We went on from there, and I’m hoping maybe now you will, too. To help, a few, never outdated print, non-digital, resources:
- The Ku Klux Klan: A History of Racism and Violence
- Columbus Special Issue, Newsweek, January 1, 1991 (Amazon from $7.65)
- Newbery Honor Book: To Be a Slave, by Julius Lester (Amazon: $6.99)
- A Place at the Table: Struggles for Equality in America, by Maria Fleming (Amazon: $7.06)
- Free at Last, by Sara Bullard (Amazon: $14.99)
- Kids Discover: Civil Rights Movement for Kids ($4.99/10-pack: $39.90)
And just this morning waiting for me among my emails, “Teaching Right” from Story People’s Brian Andreas. The text accompanying the drawing is unedited:
“She asked me if I had kids and when I said I did she said make sure you teach them what’s right & I said how will I know? & she nodded and said good point, just don’t teach them any obvious wrong then.”
With my thanks, Carol