Children have never been very good at listening to adults
but they have never failed to imitate them.
I have a promise of doing book reviews for this blog and among the books I plan to review is Beverly Daniel Tatum’s “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” I credit Tatum with helping me start a dialogue with my son about slavery when he is not yet four years old. As Tatum says, “Slavery is a topic that makes many of us uncomfortable. Yet the nature of Black-White race relations in the United States have been forever shaped by slavery and its social, psychological, and economic legacies.” Just as I was spoonfed Holocaust stories before I even understood that I was a Jew, so are many young Black children taught about slavery from their elders before they hear about it in school.
I want to make sure Tin is armed with a balanced view of slavery and to understand as best as possible the history. I can’t be the only white person who watched Roots and kept hoping foolishly that Kunta Kinte would not get caught or that a different outcome might happen. I feel as if I have some entree into reconciling slavery with a world that would march innocent men, women and children into gas ovens alongside one where joy and goodwill abound. However, the truth is that as inconvenient a conversation as slavery poses to a white mother and her black son, it’s a conversation that can’t wait for someone else to broach it.
So when I saw that a play was at the Jazz Historic Park in the French Quarter, I opted to take Tin there instead of his typical Music for all Ages session that we do on Saturday mornings. This was Tin’s first play and he actually was better than I would have expected for an almost four year old. Stories from da Dirt is a historical, cultural, educational experience directed by Dr. Nancy Dawson and even though what we saw were vignettes from the longer play that was to be performed later that afternoon – I do believe these women left an indelible mark on Tin. The narrative is about runaway slaves – told through spirituals, testimonials, and dramatic recreations of the harsh realities of escaping slavery. I only wished I had seen the longer and more complete version from what I saw with Tin.
I can’t expect that Tin won’t want to wish away our shared history of slavery just as I had hoped Kunta Kinte would outrun his captors, but the reality is the subject of slavery doesn’t go away. And like all matters that are difficult, emotional, and hard to accept, healing comes from talking about it. It’s the first step. I wonder in most African American families if there is a deliberate initiation of a discussion on slavery or if the topic of slavery is one that weaves in and out of the daily fabric of family talk.