The Dream of Martin Luther King is a song 4th graders in Memphis composed about Martin Luther King the day after he was assassinated. I was singing it today with preschoolers and after we sang, “White man, black man, red man, yellow man, loving one another with pride…” I felt obligated to try to explain what that meant.
And that’s when it struck me. How do you explain racism to a 3-year old? I mean that seriously. Try it. Whoever is close to you while you’re reading this, explain it to them like they’re 3-years old. What would you say?
There was a little girl in the front row with yellow boots and so I said:
“I see someone’s wearing yellow boots and I don’t like to wear yellow boots, so does that mean she can’t be my friend?”
“Nooo!!!” the kids all shouted back.
“I prefer black boots, but if it was raining really hard and I didn’t want to get my new shoes wet and the only boots around were yellow, does that mean I shouldn’t wear them because I think I only like black boots?”
“So if it doesn’t make sense with boots, it doesn’t make sense with our different skin colors either. So that’s what Martin Luther King was trying to……”
And then I just had to stop. The kids were looking at me like I was out of my mind suggesting that one had to fight so hard and even get murdered just to convince people of the obvious. And they are right, of course. Here I was singing with kids of all different skin colors and backgrounds and family structures and all I could see was one beautiful child after another, each with their own quirky personalities and absolutely delightful zest for life. How could I explain to that so many people for so long and still today can’t see a child’s beauty because they’re blinded by this miserable story passed down to them? And why? I defy you to come up with one single reason that makes an iota of sense to a three-year old.
So there it is. Take a step back from everything you’ve been taught, from the whole wretched legacy of our history, from all the excuses and analysis and ignorance and just look at it through the eyes of a 3-year old. And then look into the eyes of a 3-year old—any 3-year old and if you can’t see the beauty and the fragile hope asking you to please tell them the world is not like that—well, if that doesn’t convince you to do your part to bring them a better future, I don’t know what will.
Just learn to step into the shoes of everyone around you—even if they are wearing yellow boots.