Yesterday we went to the zoo with some new friends of ours. Burke, my five year old son, was intent on playing at the playground, and his friend, Lucy, was totally cool with that plan. They climbed up ladders, ran across bridges, came down the slides, and enjoyed the swings. After a bit, the mommas told them it was time for lunch.
So we headed out of the playground and started walking toward the cafe. I grabbed Burke’s hand, and Lucy grabbed her Momma’s. Then, she reached out to grab Burke’s. In an unnatural move, he pulled his hand back. She reached again, and he pulled back again.
“Burke, Lucy wants to hold your hand, buddy.”
“But I don’t want to,” he replied, “her skin is brown.”
I did the only thing I could think to do. I looked right at him and said, “So what?”
“It feels different,” he explained. “My skin is peach.”
“And mine is, too!” Lucy exclaimed, turning her hand over. Sure enough, peachy smooth skin presented itself for Burke to consider.
“See, Burke? It’s no big deal,” I said.
“Hmm…yep,” he answered and started to skip toward the cafe.
We went on to have lunch and to see the tigers, the gorillas, and one very hairy camel.
When it was time to leave, Lucy opened her arms for a hug, and I held my breath.
I held my breath and prayed that Burke wouldn’t make a scene. And he didn’t.
He grabbed Lucy in a big hug, and I exhaled.
Then, she kissed him.
“Ewww!” he screamed, running away.
Lucy’s mom and I laughed and headed to our cars.
Once again, I held my breath as I asked Burke about his reaction.
“Why did that upset you buddy? Was it because her skin is brown?”
“No!” he answered simply. “She’s a giiiirrrrllll!!!”
Ah, just the way it should be. 😉
How am I handling this? Clumsily. Very, very clumsily. I feel awkward and ill-equipped. I feel ignorant and unsure. I feel like I’m going to mess them up or make it worse.
But I’m going to try anyway. I’m starting by opening the lines of communication. I’m talking about it with my kids. I’m not shying away from their questions or reactions. I’m not shushing them as if they’ve said something wrong.
Because they haven’t.
They’re expressing their observances. Yes, Lucy’s skin is brown. Yes, it feels different. There’s nothing wrong about that, and there’s nothing wrong with Burke pointing it out.
My job is to help him figure out what to do with that information. And so I’m trying.
“Her skin is brown.”
This post is the fifth in a series titled “But I’m Not Racist!” You can see the full list of posts here. Please join me as I carefully tread this sacred ground.