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.