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This year more than ever, a birthday to celebrate

Submitted by on Monday, 19 January 2009 2 Comments

“Mom, who’s that guy whose birthday we celebrate?”


“No,” Big Guy responded, exasperated at Mom’s density. “The one whose birthday’s coming upĀ  and I get a day off from school. The one who went to heaven.”

“Oh! You mean Martin Luther King Jr.”

“Yeah, him. We learned about him in school. He was shot.”

Looks like my “gone to heaven” euphemism has ended its useful life.

“Yes, he was. Do you know why he was shot?”

“The bad guys did it, because they wanted people to be separate.”

“Separate? That doesn’t sound right, separating people.”

Big Guy nodded in agreement. “Big Boots and I couldn’t play together back then. He’s black, you know.”

That one surprised me, because it was the first time he’d showed a sign of noticing skin color. It didn’t seem to matter, though. He loves Big Boots – his name is the same as Boots, his brother – more than any kid at school, with an admiration bordering on hero worship.

“Yes, but that was a long, long time ago, when I was a baby. I’m sure glad those days are over.”

“Me, too. Hey, Mawmaw is old. Do you think she knew Martin Luther King? Can we bake him a birthday cake?”

I felt bad about telling him those days are over, because I know they’re not. Not entirely, though we’ve made great progress in the past year at being able to look beyond skin color and see the content of character.

Some still look at complexion first. The guys have cousins who tell them they’re not related to other, mutual cousins because the guys’ whiter-shade-of-pale complexion and blue eyes belie their father’s Middle Eastern ethnicity. It makes my blood boil because it marginalizes my husband and demeans my children.

So, yes, there are still plenty of people in the world whose need to feel superior leads them to separate others based on skin color.

But their numbers are dwindling. And I’m happy that Big Guy can play happily with children of every shade of the rainbow without the surface differences mattering one bit.

So maybe we will make Dr. King a cake today, in honor of progress made and in recognition of progress yet to come.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • ParentingPink said:

    Isn’t it great that our children are growing up in a generation that doesn’t “see” skin color. And once they do, somehow it never really mattered to begin with. Now, that’s progress!

    Enjoy your Martin Luther King cake! Save me a big ‘ol piece!

  • Debra said:

    You know, I think back to all our generation has heard over the years about whether this country will ever be “ready” to elect an African-American president or a woman president or a Martian-American president.

    And then I look at the mock election at Big Guy’s school, when he “voted” for “The Bomber” without a second’s hesitation about his skin color. Because he’d never learned that he’s supposed to hesitate.

    Progress indeed!