Dr. King and Baby Doll

If young children don't know about racial differences, should we teach them?

BY: Steven Waldman

My kids go to an elementary school that's half black, half white--but they don't seem to know that. At ages 4 and 6, they have not yet developed a sense of race.

Sure they notice physical differences. One boy has long hair, another has glasses, another has brown skin, another is tall, another has white skin. My 4-year-old, Gordon, has a baby doll--sweetly named "Baby Doll"--which has brown skin. He's never, to this day, talked about it as a black doll or commented that other dolls are white. When I told him I was bringing Baby Doll to the office to have her picture taken for the website, he responded, "Because she's the prettiest?"

So I admit to having mixed feelings when I heard them recite from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, which they had learned in school. I was proud of them--and the school, for teaching about such a great man. Indeed, I do believe King to be one of the greatest Americans in history.

But I also felt sad that my boys were being taught about racism so early. To understand King's greatness, one has to understand what he was struggling against. To understand racism, one has to understand race. In studying King in school, Gordon and his brother had read comic books about King that talked about how little black and white children had not been able to play together and how King wanted to change that.

When I've asked my black friends about this, they seem pleased that the kids were learning such a crucial lesson so early. Abhorrence of racism can indeed be learned, and lessons learned early are more likely to become deeply ingrained.

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