Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Asking the Tough Questions

Helen has become hyper-aware of race. It's a little surprising given that she doesn't watch television or read the newspaper, so she is not immersed in the conversation of privilege that seems to come up a lot. I think it started when her first grade teacher was talking about great Americans, and Harriett Tubman came up. Helen came home and told me her book only had "about a paragraph" of information, and she needed to know more.

Since then, she has consumed two biographies of Tubman, and continues to long for more. It's the idea of slavery she cannot get past. She was chatting with a friend after she first heard about slavery and told her friend:
Helen: "we're lucky we're white".
Friend: "why Helen? It doesn't matter what race you are, we're all the same".
Helen: "did you hear what Mrs. H. said today? White people used to OWN black people. That is the worst. You can never get over that."

And with that, I realized that my 7 year old daughter had become aware of something most adults haven't come to grips with. I suspect Helen's need to know about Harriett Tubman is because that is the only example of getting out of slavery. I suspect in Helen's mind, the institution was much smaller than it actually was, and Tubman was able to save almost everyone.

Last night, as the woman who cleans our house was leaving, Helen asked me why almost all people who clean houses speak Spanish and not English. Astute little girl, I thought. Connor and I cobbled together a reasonable response about immigration and recency in the United States probably being big drivers of the phenomenon Helen had noticed.

I have a feeling that sitting next to Helen for hours on a plane and in a car tomorrow will be an opportunity for a lot of talking. I'm grateful I'll have a friend in the car with me, who can help answer Helen's questions!


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