Wednesday, May 02, 2007

How do you explain racism to a 2nd grader?

My Wednesday mornings are spent as a "Book Buddy" at a local elementary school. I go, listen to the kids read their books, and occasionally help them when they have trouble with a word. Today really threw me for a loop, though. One little girl read me a story called The Bus Ride, which was about a little African-American girl who gets "arrested" for sitting at the front of a bus in the 1950's. I didn't care for the book - it wasn't particularly well-written or -illustrated (all of the "White" people looked Hispanic, I thought, and it seemed to trivialize the historical importance) - but it raised some interesting questions:

Girl: "But...wasn't Rosa Parker the first Black person to sit at the front of a bus?"
Me: "I'm not sure. We're taught that Rosa Parks was the first, but maybe there were others before her."
Girl: "Why did people care so much? It's not like it matters what color your skin is..."
Me: "Well, people didn't always feel that way, though. But it's good that you know that."

Wow. I really had no idea what to tell this poor kid. She even asked me who "the first Black person on earth was." If I really felt like getting in trouble with her parents, I would've told her that some people think Jesus was Black, or that humans originated in Africa.

You know, the fact that she couldn't comprehend the idea of racism makes me think that her parents are pretty cool people, and probably wouldn't have minded.

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