As we finished breakfast this morning, Miguel took his sister by the hand and led her from the kitchen. His voice was so tender and she looked up at him, all smiles and trust. The sun was shining through the kitchen window and we were sipping our coffee, glowing as we watched our beautiful children. Then, we heard Miguel say, "O.k. Zeca, let´s play slavery!" I sputtered coffee, Luisa and I stared at each other in disbelief and the glow vanished. It always happens this way. We are contentedly watching our children and thinking that they are gorgeous and talented and amazing and, slowly, we begin to think that no other children in the history of the world have ever done/looked/sounded like this and then - BAM. Reality hits. The universe has a way of keeping parents humble. I assumed that Miguel had no idea what slavery was and had simply created a game using the word. So, in my most serious tone, I asked him if he knew what slavery was. He said that he did and launched into a long explanation of slavery including the concepts of ownership, perceived superiority, cruelty, abuse, separation of families and many of the other horrors. He then told me a story that he had heard in school about a young girl escaping to the north and the signs that were used to show that it was safe for travel and how she walked barefoot at night through pine needles before she made it to safety. As he described it all, I had to admit - it sounded pretty exciting. It sounded like an incredible adventure. Still, there will be no more playing slavery.
Luisa and I are white, middle class lesbian feminists that move in almost entirely white circles. There are no people of color in our inner circle and the people of color that we do know are only acquaintances. We live in the heart of the city in a neighborhood that is very racially diverse but we don´t hang out with our neighbors. We are aware of how white are lives are and I, for one, am sometimes freaked out by it. I am not well versed in the political issues around race and racism. I don´t talk much about it because I don´t want to look stupid and because I am never really challenged to do so. I do want my children to be more enlightened than I am but I often feel like I am in uncharted territory when it comes to discussions about race. Miguel notices skin color and sometimes describes people by the color of their skin, not with judgement but as true differentiation. I can generally handle that pretty well, though I would prefer he not do it loudly in public. It´s when he says things like, "Let´s play slavery" or "Dark skinned people can´t see me" - well, I fucking lose my mind. My rational mind tries to calmly grapple with the origin of the statement while the emotional part of me recoils in shock and then starts pacing, fueled by Liberal White Woman Guilt. My response can generally go in only two directions: Stepford Mother or Linda Blair. I can say, "My sweet little sugar plum...why would you ever say or think such a thing?" with a gentle pat on the head and a little sparkle in my eye or I can allow my head to spin and start spewing all sorts of things that have the express purpose of scaring the shit out of him to make sure that he never says such a thing again. I´m sure there are other options but I am still evolving as a parent, so, I go with Stepford Mother. Somehow, these talks do end up being conversations and seem productive in the end.
I started this post with the intention of writing about freedom. Luisa and I have been talking about how free our children have been since we have been here. Instead I opened with a snappy little anecdote about slavery and a discussion of race. Huh. I guess I´ll save that other topic for another day...
BTW - did you hear that Miguel was hiding a needle in his mouth at school the other day?