Childhood Innocence

“Mommy, I learned at school that there are black people and white people. And they had separate water fountains. That’s history!” Klara says.

I love Americans, I truly do. But this obsession with race is seriously unhealthy. Why do kids need this at 6? Why is it so urgent to inform them before they learn to tie their shoes?

I did what I could, put her in a private Christian school but even there the favorite national pastime of scratching the itch of race has found us.

My kid didn’t even know the word COVID until we were in New York on Sunday and she read it on a billboard. And COVID was happening as she was growing up, not in the previous century.

What’s the rush to inform the kids about bad things? Are we worrying that they’ll avoid finding out? No, they won’t. Divorce, child abuse, slavery, FGM, Bucha, Stalin, Auschwitz, Rwanda, women on leashes, serial killers, Putin – they’ll find out for sure. And the only way to make it bearable when they do find out is to give them a childhood where none of this exists.

13 thoughts on “Childhood Innocence

  1. We barely covered that when I was in school. I knew about it because my mom would mention it now and then– on an old building, she’d point to a nondescript side exit door, and say “that used to be the colored entrance”. Or she’d tell stories about when her high school integrated. All in the context of it being… a thing that happened, but which thankfully isn’t an issue anymore. So we knew, but it wasn’t anything to ruminate on. It does seem weird that people are so fixated on it now, when they weren’t in the 80s, 90s… not that it wasn’t always a complicated and prickly thing, but learning about it from my parents and relatives, through their own stories and life experience, what I learned was… it’s complicated. There is racism. There is injustice. But it’s never a simple black-and-white, good-guys vs. bad-guys story. Because it’s about people, and people are complex. I didn’t know about the water fountains.

    But I did know that my grandmother, who was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, had a black cleaning lady for a very long time, whom she depended on like her right hand– particularly when the kids were younger. Everyone thought of her as family, and when my aunt got married, they invited her to the wedding. She attended, but despite entreaties, did not feel comfortable in the pew with the family (what would people think?), and spent the service in the church kitchen, listening to the wedding over the PA speaker. My aunt is still grieved about this fifty years later, that a friend of the family was too scared of the rest of the wedding guests, to sit with them.

    We’re all glad that’s not a thing anymore. That’s real progress. Victory, even. Because my parents lived in the deep south when that was still being worked out, there are lots of weird, sad, and uncomfortable stories like that. But what they illustrate is the slow, sometimes awkward process of change that we’ve been through. How far we’ve come.

    My mom was in high school when the first five black students transferred to her school. She was friends with a couple of them. Mom was in drama club and they did a play with black characters (I forget what). The two black students who were in drama at the time declined parts, because they preferred to keep a low profile and avoid anything remotely controversial. So Mom played one of those parts, and the black girl in the drama club did her makeup for the production, so that it’d look right and not too ridiculous. See? The palms of your hands have to be lighter than the backs, etc.

    There was no rancor in it. Just teenagers doing their best to be decent people. And yet, as far as we’ve come, here we go down the back of the slope all in a tumble. If someone ever rustled up photos of my mother in “blackface” from that drama club production, she’d have to delete her facebook account, change her phone number, and hire security.

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    1. My kid’s best friends both at home and at school are black. They love to play each other. The white kid pretends to be black and the black pretends to be white. They draw themselves as the other race. Am I supposed to stop them because it’s “blackface” and “whiteface” or whatever? Of course not. They are playfully processing their differences. If parents don’t get all weird about race, the kids won’t either. We should all just collectively relax about this already.

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      1. Exactly. We live in a minority-white neighborhood. My kids’ neighbor-friends are mostly some variation on black or latino. None of the kids seem to notice or care.

        The only time I hear a word about it is when my mom comes to visit, and gripes about the girls from next door. She can’t stand when white mommas with black daughters can’t be arsed to learn how to take proper care of their kids’ hair: “All she has to do is make ONE appointment at a black beauty parlor, and the ladies there will be happy to teach her!” Mom, of course, has done this, because she had so many of these kids in her classroom. So zero tolerance for people who don’t…

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        1. I would be pissed off about that, too. Kids deserve to grow up knowing how to take care of their hair. It can be a big deal when you’re a kid, and not knowing makes it so much harder when you grow up and have to learn it all on your own.

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  2. When I was little, I naïvely thought that all schools were integrated — primarily because I watched “The Little Rascals” on television, and there the black and white kids did everything together, including going to school. There were no black kids at my elementary school, but that’s because we lived in a lily-white neighborhood. By junior high and high school I was going to integrated schools and I don’t recall there being any particularly racist attitudes among either group. It lulled me into the belief that racism was pretty much a spent force, a relic of the past. If only!

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  3. You are right. I get the impression that many American parents see their children as/ want their children to be mini-adults by the age of three. Why? What’s the point?

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    1. Absolutely. I grew up in the USSR. My father was a dissident but he never talked to us about it. I was 10 when he started talking to me about things that contradicted the ruling dogma. If he’d started earlier, I would have been a miserable child because I didn’t have the capacity to process it.

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    2. This is actually a very old phenomenon. Until very recently children were seen and treated as mini-adults. Children’s literature has evolved accordingly as that changed. It’s honestly fascinating.

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      1. Coincidentally, we are reading “Swallows and Amazons” aloud again, at home. The kids love it. It is a classic iteration of the “British children on summer holiday” book, where four children are allowed to camp out on an island in a lake by themselves all summer, going to and fro in a small sailboat. Not one mention of lifejackets in the whole book.

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      2. @Pen “Until very recently”
        Well, in terms of social history that may be true, but it has been at least since late Victorian times among the affluent in English-speaking countries, and, more generally in the West after World War II, that children have been considered and are felt to be a different category from adult.
        One can easily find evidence of that in the stories of Kate Chopin (late Victorian age) or Katherine Mansfield (1920s and ’30s). That’s now well over a century, so, no, I’ll let my point stand.

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        1. So sue me—the class I took was Children’s Lit and so was in the context of a much longer time span. In terms of the history of literature as a whole, a century and a half is downright contemporary.

          :p

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  4. I learned about this stuff in elementary school, and I don’t recall it being particularly traumatizing. It really just felt like we were learning about history (and it is a big part of our history, like it or not.) However, 6 is too young. I also might feel differently about the whole thing if I was black.

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