Sunday, February 22, 2009

Race Relations & Gender Equality, as Explained to a 5 and 3 Year Old

I have been having some heavy conversations with my sons lately. Racism. Race relations. Sexism. Gender equality. Heavy stuff for any age, but even more so with a five and three year old. Admittedly not the typical fare for car pool lines and kitchen conversations everywhere. But my sons sit perched at the breakfast bar while I cook dinner, and we talk. Mostly they ask questions, and I wrack my brain coming up with an honest yet meaningful answer that will make sense to their innocent blank slates. I tread lightly, knowing this will likely be the beginning of their developing self awareness. So what's the catalyst for such heady talk at our house?

Barack Obama.

You see, my children are mixed race first generation Americans.

My husband is a born and bred Midwesterner from a town of 500 people. I am an Indian girl who was born in Calcutta, a city of 16 million people. I say it's kismet that brought us together 31 years after our birth.

My sons are starting to recognize that we look different from each other, and that I look different from other moms. The beauty of childhood is that they view these differences with no judgment, no preconception, no expectations, no bigotry. Some call it naivete. I call it bliss.

I spent the better part of 2008 campaigning for Barack Obama in my home state of North Carolina. Political chatter surrounded us, and we tuned in the children when we felt it was appropriate. Granted, they were Obama walking billboards sporting their "Yes We Can" T-shirts. My husband and I told them about this historic election, and pointed out the significance of the Clinton vs. Obama primaries.

I brought my boys to the voting booth with me. Bird, my kindergartener, even filled out the ballot for me, proudly marking Barack Obama's name. It's no surprise that "Obama" was one of the first words he could read on his own. On November 5 I showed a picture of the past 43 presidents to my sons and asked what they noticed about the people. First they said, "There are no girls, Mommy." Home run! Then Bird said, they all look like Daddy. They are pink." I explained that the terms we use are white, black/African American, to which he animatedly replied, "But we are brown, Mommy. And no one is white. They are pink!" How could I argue with such logic?

And then came Lily Ledbetter .

I happened to flip on the TV during Obama's press conference about signing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act . The boys shouted for me to move so they too could see the TV. Obama! Obama! We all sat mesmerized as he spoke, with a tenacious and victorious Lily Ledbetter at his side. They were particularly excited when Obama mentioned his daughters in his speech. They love to hear about kids in the White House (which we just visited recently). I explained that when Mommy and Daddy met, we both had the exact same jobs (Yes, an office romance!), but Daddy got paid more money than I did. I told them that I had actually been in the job longer, but Daddy earned more money. "No fair!" they shouted in unison. I regaled them with the tale about me marching into our manager's office demanding an explanation...and a raise. My next pay stub reflected a significant bump in pay that equaled my husband's. Whether it was my gumption or my boss' fear I'll never know. I explained to my sons how many, many women earn less money than men doing the same things. I told them that that lady standing next to Obama got fed up, and America finally listened.

As the mother of boys, I hope to raise them in a manner that debunks gender biases. My three year old's favorite color is pink . My five year old loves to draw and paint. My husband often cooks spectacular dinners, and he has breakfast duty on weekends, for which he spoils us with creme brulee french toast and the like. We share duties as primary care givers. My goal is to raise my sons as open minded citizens who see the worth in all people, regardless of race, gender, or anything else that adults deem worthy of judgment. And I hope, as their mother, that the world grants them the same respect.

This original post is cross posted to Deep South Moms Blog.
Race Relations & Gender Equality, as Explained to a 5 and 3 Year OldSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend


Magpie said...

And I, as the mother of a girl, hope to raise her in a manner that debunks gender biases.

Good on you marching into your boss to demand a raise!

Lisa Creech Bledsoe said...

Good post (again), Ilina.

When my middle son was young, his favorite color was pink, and he was so adamant about it that he refused to wear anything other than his favorite plain pink tee shirt. We ended up buying him 7 pink tee shirts so that he could make it through his week without a tantrum!

Anonymous said...

Great article.

I also have a 5 year old son. Our nanny's son is African American and is like a big brother to my kids. My 3 year old says he is his "best friend". My 5 year old loves Jayvon but often wonders why his skin is "tan".

I wish they would not see any difference in someones skin color just judge the person for who they are.

EatPlayLove said...

I whole heartedly agree with you! My girls play with trains, trucks, matchbox cars, dolls, legos, barbies (eek), and princess dress ups. I feel so lucky that we are raising a different generation of kids, sounds like your boys will be perfect for my girls someday!

I commend you for taking on the hard talks at their age, our kids deserve honesty. As for where my daughter really came out of me, I am not so ready to move beyond my "special place" just quite yet.

Lisa Creech Bledsoe said...

Me again, Ilina -- posted a link to your story on 30Threads (don't know why I didn't think of it earlier!):