Last night my 12 year old son asked me if I would rather be a racist or if I would rather be someone who suppresses religion. He was sitting on the couch in his black hoodie, looking at me with his big blue eyes — his young, blue eyes — and asked me this question with all the earnestness that a 12 year old can muster.
Which isn’t much — but the fact that he was asking such a serious question instead of sitting there with his arms crossed, glaring into space, made it seem like an earnest question indeed.
“I would rather die then be either.” I said.
He looked puzzled.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because hating someone based on the color of their skin — based on what they look like — is vile. And telling an individual or a group of people that they cannot worship or believe in the god or religion of their choice takes away one of our most fundamental rights as human beings.”
Then I asked him.
“Which would you rather be?”
“A racist.” he said.
A racist. My son would rather be a racist.
I looked at him as I would look at one of my patients coding at work. And I thought — this has got to be fixed, STAT.
So as a nurse rushes to get a crash cart — I rushed to grab my laptop. And with the world of education via google images at my finger tips I showed him the horror of racism, prejudice and religious suppression. From the lynchings of black people in the early 20th century, to Rosa Parks, to the march on Washington. From the horrors of Auschwitz with piles of dead bodies to photos of cherubic babies and children prior to their fate of being thrown into ovens. And a photo of a young jewish girl rescued from a concentration camp — all skin and bones with a vacant look in her eyes.
It was some hardcore education. An education that he hasn’t been getting in school because the pictures are considered too disturbing.
He put his head on my shoulder and said:
“I can’t believe I asked that question. I can’t believe I said that.”
And I considered my job done for the moment. Because teaching kids tolerance and empathy is continuous. It’s a job that I thought I had been doing, but had not really and truly succeeded at until last night. A job that perhaps I’ve taken for granted as we live in a very culturally and racially diverse area. I’d assumed my son accepted everyone equally — and maybe he does. Maybe he just didn’t have a full grasp of what racism means — but now he has a much better idea — and it’s a topic my husband and I will discuss with him more frequently.
As I was pitter-pattering around the house this morning, I decided to go through my second grader’s school papers.
And I came across this.
It says: Obama is the best symbol because he lets black people vote. Because he is black.
In addition to some spelling practice, I think we are in need of another history lesson tonight.