Friday night, we went out to dinner at Texas Roadhouse. After we ordered our food, Teagan asked to go to the bathroom. She is big enough now that she goes in by herself and I just wait outside the door. She goes in and comes out and looks up at me and says, "Mommy, who was Martin Luther King?"
I was... stunned. Not the question I was expecting as she came out of the bathroom. I asked her what she already knew about him. She knew that they don't have school on Monday and she knew that her teacher said he was Special Man who did Important Things.
I gave it my best shot. I said, "Martin Luther King was a preacher- like Pastor Rusty. He was alive a long time ago and was a leader during the Civil Rights Movement. People were fighting for something called civil rights- that means that we all treat each other fairly and with respect no matter what someone looks like or where they come from. Dr. King was important because he taught people to be peaceful. There were people who weren't being treated fairly and they wanted to get into fights about it but Dr. King wanted them to be kind and purposeful in their choices."
Saturday, we went to the library to see what we could learn about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.
We read a book (Riding to Washington) about a little white girl from Indianapolis who goes with her father to Washington with a lot of her dad's co-workers who were black. In reading the book, I had to explain to Teagan that it used to be that people with brown skin weren't treated the same as people with peach skin like ours. They weren't allowed to use the same bathrooms or water fountains or eat in the same restaurants or go to the same schools.
We found some other books- one on Coretta Scott King and one on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. We found a picture book (Back of the Bus) that tells the story of Rosa Parks from the perspective of a school age boy who was on the bus with his mother.
Sometimes, I choked up reading those books. My eyes got misty as I sang "We Shall Overcome." Partially because of the power of it and partially because the meaning is lost on her at this time in her life and I see that as a blessing.
I feel like I've opened Pandora's Box. Skin color has never been a discussion before. And the unfair treatment of people with brown skin in our country's history hasn't been discussed before. I've waited for questions about why this girl or this boy at school or at church looks different but it's never come up.
But the questions are coming now. Why did people with brown skin have to sit in the back of the bus? Did grandma have brown skin when she was a little girl? Was Rosa Parks' skin brown or peach? Who shot Dr. King? Can I go to Morehouse like he did? How come kids with brown skin couldn't go to the same school as kids with skin like ours?
Those are hard questions to answer. And while I wasn't prepared for this to happen right now... I'm glad it did. And I'm glad my daughter wants to learn more and know more and maybe someday do more. I'm glad she's asking me questions and trying to figure out why a little girl with a white mom and a black dad doesn't have brown or peach skin but something in between. I'm glad she's noticing that people are different and also learning that we all deserve to be treated the same. And more than that- we should be treating everyone with love, respect, and fairness as our foundation.
This year, we are really celebrating the life of Dr. King. I'm proud of my daughter for asking about who he was and I'm glad we had the opportunity to go to the library and learn together. I'm proud of her for being able to ask questions that might feel strange or uncomfortable to ask.