Forgive my lack of editing/word smithing/run-on-sentences as I wanted to get this written before running to a 6-year-old’s birthday party.
My response to Empathy Lab’s Question #231 : Most Proud
Today, I am proud of something that occurred a few days ago. I am proud of the empathetic and emotional understanding my six-year-old daughter, Juliette, recently displayed. While sitting at the dinner table on Wednesday, my wife, Laura, and I decided to talk about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since we have some good family friends that live out there, we decided to make sure Juliette knew her friends were okay. We use dinner time to sit around the table and talk about our days, things that are on our minds, and tell bad jokes before running upstairs to bathe. Since we are an NPR morning drive-to-school family, she and her three-year-old brother, Grayson, heard many stories about the car accident, the angry crowds of people, and our leaders response to it all. In the car we would briefly explain what was happening and encourage her to ask questions as she had them. Nothing really major was explained in the car for good reason, we wouldn’t be able to hold their hands if they were unable to understand the depths of the issues at hand.
This particular dinner time, the subject of Charlottesville came up and we decided to walk the path of explaining what white supremacy meant. Here is the trick with explaining this in our family. Terms like white and black to a child and many adults is all inclusive. These words don’t nuance too well. I am half black, half white, and my wife is white. I would never be physically mistaken for a white man if you saw me, but catch me on the phone and you might think I was just another So Cal surfer dude. Our kids, being 1/4 black, are an amazing Pantone between us. We live in a predominantly white neighborhood and we have an eclectic mix of friends. Our explanation of white supremacy was simple and devoid of making a single race the bad guy. We said, “There are some people that just don’t like black people or individuals of a certain religion.”
There was silence, Juliette’s eyes focused straight across the table, and she asked, “They don’t like Daddy?” Laura responded in a gentle way that mom’s are so good at, “You are right, they don’t like people that look like daddy. Daddy is safe.”
She had that look that people gets when they are confused and scared. You could tell that she had that painful lump in her throat, yet wanted desperately to hold it back and continue the conversation. She responded quietly, “But I have tan skin, they don’t like me either.”
Cue my rage.
Cue that burning lump in my throat.
Cue my tears as I sit there trying to focus on her eyes.
Cue all that which is within me to protect her from this, educate her about compassion/empathy/inclusion, and build a better world for her, her brother, and their little friends.
I reached over as fast as I could and held her arm and said, “We are safe. I will never let anything happen to us. We have so many friends that love us and will help us if we need it.”
I mentioned that our neighbors, Bill and Barbara love us and that Andy and Ginger love us too.
I started to get up but she beat me to it. She got up, walked around the table to me and hugged me. I could feel her sobbing in my side as she said quietly, “I love you Daddy.”
Through my tears I responded, “I love you too J.”
The evening’s explanations progressed, kids were bathed, and I explained to her what it means to look out for those that are down.
I am sad that she has to understand anything about hatred. At the same time, at her age, I am amazingly proud that she can empathetically understand, ask questions, and be compassionate for others. This lesson, without major tragedy in our VERY fortunate family, is something I didn’t know how to teach. My heart goes out to the families where this explanation of hatred came from direct tragedy. My heart goes out to those effected in Charlottesville, Virginia, Borno State, Nigeria, Barcelona, Spain, Lahore, Pakistan, Turku, Finland.
Juliette, you are amazing.
Grayson, you are a dino-truck. Always be nice to other dino-trucks.