Black & White: Learning from the Best of Us

I wrote this a few years ago when Rachel started asking question, and since we have the anniversary of the march I figured I’d post it again. The message and Rachel’s attitude remain the same and relevant today, and it is one of the factors in my acceptance of Rachel for exactly who she is and my decision to stop trying to “train” her to fit into the rest of society. She’s too good for it!

Monday, January 19, 2009 

 My 15-year-old daughter is mentally retarded. She has always been in either all special needs classrooms, or all special needs schools, as she is now. She learns about Martin Luther King, Jr. and thinks he is a great and brave man. She has a picture of him and a picture of Jesus on her nightstand. So you can imagine what our holiday was like today, watching the documentaries about him, listening to songs about him, reading books about him, crying because it’s so sad that he dies at the end of all the stories. 

 This year was different, though. This year she began asking questions about the stories. Why did some people not like him? Why did some bad man have to shoot at him? So I told her that some people didn’t like black people, and didn’t think they should be as good as us. I asked her “do you like black people?” “No” she answered. I wasn’t expecting that answer, of course, so I asked her “do you know what a black person is?” Again, she replied “no.” 

 I was dumbfounded. My wonderfully oblivious daughter had managed to reach the age of 15 without knowing the difference between black people and white people. Now I felt bad that I had to explain it to her, but there was no other way to explain why MLK was a great and brave man to her. I asked “what color skin do you have?” She said “tan.” “What color skin does Martin Luther King have?” “He has tan skin, too.” Okay, time to try a different angle. 

 We got her yearbook out and found pictures of one of her black friends and one of her white friends. “What color skin does Shannon have?” Again she replied “tan.” “Sometimes people call that white skin.” I told her. “What color is Shakeeta’s skin?” “Um, black?” she answered questioningly. “That’s right,” I said. “Some people call that black skin.” Then I asked, “What’s the difference between them?” “Their skin?” she answers. 

 Then we had a discussion about how some black people don’t like white people, and some white people don’t like black people. How a lot of white people when MLK was alive didn’t think that black people should eat at the same restaurants or ride on the same buses or drink from the same water fountains as they did, and that’s what he tried to change. A lot of white people didn’t like him because they didn’t want things to change, and that’s why they killed him. 

 So she said “Oh. ” But I still don’t think she gets it, and that’s alright. Because the reason she doesn’t get it is because she will never understand why black and white are different, when all she sees is people with “arms and legs and hearts and brains and love.” And instead of trying to “develop” her so that she understands things the way we do, I’d rather hope that in the future we come around to seeing things (or not seeing them) the way Rachel and her friends do. 

 These kids ARE the future, and they are special. Let’s stop thinking of them as marginal humans who don’t count (sound familiar?), and start learning from them. I’m truly thankful to be blessed to have a lifetime with this wonderful little teacher. Most people will never know, and if they do they will never appreciate, the true humanity in their own home. “


2 thoughts on “Black & White: Learning from the Best of Us

  1. OMG. How beautiful is that? She sees people for who they are. Not their skin colour and here we are educating her about the differences. You’re right, someday we should get around thinking like that. Thinking about people are persons and just an amalgamation of organs and body parts and beautiful hearts and not as white or black. Why is this not Freshly Pressed? Why? I had written a post on discrimination yesterday and so her line of thought feels infinitely beautiful to me.
    Following you now. 🙂

  2. Thank you so much! I just read some of your writing and I wanted to thank you for expressing your thoughts and views as well. We as a society seem to want to think of people in terms of groups rather than who they really are as individual humans. It’s really sad! How many people do you think will always look at my daughter and just see someone damaged and not good enough for society and a burden, and never see how much they should be learning from her?!! I won’t try to make her fit into the rest of society anymore, you are right, I would be teaching her to fit into a mean, hateful, violent and greedy world. That is one of the reasons I started this blog! I want people to know how much Rachel has to teach us.I have started following you now as well!

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