Monday, 16 January 2012

Celebrating Dr. King.

I've never thought that hard about today's holiday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day before - other than that, as a federal holiday, it isn't the best-timed. (I don't know about you, but I'm not really ready for a bank holiday weekend in the middle of January - I'd rather have one in the spring when the weather is more conducive to being outside, and we don't just feel as if we've barely recovered from Christmas).

But as the Littleboys grow older, we've started to talk more about the meaning of the day - and it's brought it home to me that it's an excellent idea to celebrate the hero of the civil rights movement. At 5 and 6, the Littleboys already know from their school all about Dr. King, and what he stood for. They know that there was once a time when black and white children couldn't sit in the same part of the bus, drink from the same water fountains or attend the same school. They told me a story about Dr. King having a white friend when young, and the white boy's mother telling the child he couldn't play with his friend. They also told me all about Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to go to a white elementary school in the South. And they can explain to me exactly why the rules that Dr. King fought against were unfair.

It's more difficult to explain to them why he was assassinated - they seem very confused by that, but I don't want to shield them from things like this, so I just try to convey to them that there were some bad/ignorant people who didn't like what he was doing. I've also tried to impress on them that this isn't ancient history; that this was only going on a decade or so before Mummy was born, when Grandad was a young man. (In fact, watching the DVD of The Help this weekend rather reminded me of this - the early 60s may seem like a world away, but for my generation it really wasn't).

Brought up in a fairly diverse area where they play with black, white, Asian and Hispanic friends, the boys would probably have no real idea about racism so far if we didn't have this day to focus minds on it. In American schools, I feel like they're always focusing on some forthcoming calendar event - but I'm glad that this is one of them. In addition to all the Halloween, Valentines and Mother's Day stuff they come home with, we now have drawings about Martin Luther King Jr.; Littleboy 2 was particularly proud of a paper plate with a picture of him on it, surrounded by black, white and brown handprints he'd cut out and glued on.

Of course the UK didn't have a civil rights movement or a Martin Luther King figure, and our history evolved somewhat differently, but I wonder what is done in British schools to start the conversation about racism and intolerance? After all, though we've come a long way, these are still massive problems for society, and the more education they get about such things from an early age, the better.

7 comments:

Iota said...

I agree about the timing. Couldn't he have had an official birthday in the spring?

When my son was in 2nd grade, he had to do a presentation on a famous person, as if he was that person. He picked Martin Luther King out of the hat, which was an excellent pick. We really enjoyed doing the project, and he remembers so much about it.

Potty Mummy said...

We could really do with a similar holiday in Russia - except that so many of the population don't see anything wrong with Racism, it might prove a difficult one to explain to them...

Nota Bene said...

I think most schools do a lot of 'black history' sessions to put everything in context...as you say, no one iconic here for obvious reasons

Knackered Mother said...

Yes, shame we don't have anything like that here really, so the children don't really get to discuss it. Thank you for lovely comment on my blog. btw x

About Last Weekend said...

We love in Oakland now (formerly of London) so we are all about this holiday - my youngests' middle name is Luther - so you see the emphasis here.....which is so right and True (another of his names....)

nappy valley girl said...

Iota - Yes, I must admit it I would far prefer it at another time of year. What on earth are you supposed to do on a cold weekend in mid January (other than ski...)

PM - that's depressing....

NB - Hope you're right....

KM - maybe I'll introduce the idea when we return to South London....

ALW - an excellent middle name to choose.

'Cross the Pond said...

I remember when there was no MLK day. I was 20 or so when it was commissioned by Reagan. it's an important day to have and I recall the discussions in university during the first MLK day in 1986. it was a big, big deal for us. This year I forgot about it living in the UK where it's not observed. I was so disappointed in myself for having done so. I'm glad your children enjoyed it. He was a truly great man.