First Day of School….


Today was the first day of 1st grade for my 5 year-old little sister. Her morning conversation consisted of the following: “I was the only black girl there.”

Terri was referring to the orientation her new school hosted last week for new students.  She wasn’t the only Black kid there but there far fewer there compared to kindergarten experience; a mostly Black charter school. My Mom told me that she’s never talked to Terri about race before. It’s never come up. Well. It came up in Terri’s young mind last week and she felt moved to mentioned it this morning.

I’m new to my little sister’s life. Long story. I’m also her primary male role model so the educating, the ‘first day of schooling’ on the race issue fell on me this morning. I wanted to tell her that being different can be a good thing, that many so-called successful people in our society are successful because they produced unique ideas from their unique perspectives and that the law of supply and demand (blending & cross referencing theories here) suggests that being unique and rare can be of value. I wanted to talk about celebrating diversity and all the lofty theories/ideals that I’ve read about in books and journals.

So what did I tell her?

I told her that “I’m the only Black person in my classes” (she knows that I frequently take night classes for creative writing, Tango & Salsa). Talking to her about my undergrad and grad school experiences will have to come at a later date. Here’s how the rest of the convo went though:

Terri: But your not Black, you look white.

Me: Do I?

(I held my arm next to her arm. Terri is dark skinned. I’m of the lighter skinned variety of Black but if you know light skinned folk, some parts of us are lighter and/or darker than other parts so my forearm was close to her shade (Yea genetics for working with my improtu lesson on race!)

Terri: (silence)

(I looked around the room and picked-up a small black calculator)

Me: What color is this?

Terri: Black.

(I hold it to her arm)

Me: Are you black?

Terri: No.

(I recognized that things could get tricky here)

Me: Your not the color black, but you are a Black person. I’m Black too. Black people come in all different kinds of colors.

(She looked at me. I didn’t know how she’s processed all that)

Terri: I understand

Me: Sometimes we call ourselves African American.

Terri: Ok. I understand.

That’s the best I could do on the spot.  Now I have to pay attention. Observe. And be ready to teach at any moment.

This morning made me think about that “Dark Girls” documentary that I barely paid attention to and should…no, I WILL have to watch it again. For real this time.

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