When Connor uttered the words ‘ I don’t like Black people’ I was stunned. It seems that the message ‘ there is only one race, the human race’ had not penetrated. He ‘did not like Black people’. I was troubled.
I am glad my skin is not brown Nan.
Calmly I asked him why.
‘ I like my skin’ , he said, pulling at his arm.
‘It is lovely to hear you like your own skin Connor but it does not follow that there is anything wrong with other people’s skin. Remember that under everyone’s skin whatever the colour are blood vessels, muscles, bones… Really we are all the same under the skin. We are all part of the human race.
As we talked we were walking towards a couple of friends of mine. Connor asked,
‘Which one of them is Black?
They were both White. I was confused.
Do we have any Black people in our family?
‘Yes we do Auntie Jade is Black and Auntie Kirsty’’s husband Andy is Black too. Then there is Auntie Cheryl and of course Uncle Tad. You don’t see much of him because he lives in America.
‘I like Auntie Cheryl’.
‘I am pleased to hear that and you had lots of fun with Uncle Tad when he visited. Auntie Jade has just had a baby so you have a Black cousin too.’
Then another bombshell.
Black people smell Nan
‘Now come on Connor not all Black people can smell. That’s like saying all people with blue eyes smell and you know that is not true. What have you smelt that makes you think that or have you heard people saying that? ‘
‘I went to visit my friend Hari. His house smelt and sometimes he smells at school.’
‘ You are probably smelling the spices Hari’s family have in their food. I love spicy foods, my favourites are cumin, turmeric, coriander and I like masala too. Maybe you would like to try some spiced food… we can cook some together? ‘
Hari is Asian. His family cooks delicious spiced food. To clear the air they sometimes use perfumes too.
‘ Because something is different doesn’t mean it is bad Connor. Life would be very boring indeed if everyone was the same. Difference makes the world a more colourful and exciting place. None of us like everything about our friends. I have a friend who uses a perfume I hate but I still love her. What do you like about Hari? ‘
‘He is really fast when we play football together. We share books and he is very funny. We laugh together a lot’.
The conversation ended there.
What was the reason for this?
Why had Connor developed such an apparently negative attitude? He was only in primary school.
Days later the penny (or cent or dime) dropped. I realised the probable cause of Connor’s surprising opinion.
Every book he had that directly referred to Black people included a reference to them as victims. They were badly treated, had been slaves, struggled against (racist) White people, been abused by the prejudiced views of others. On TV there were Black people who were presented as bad or silly..not always but perhaps enough to inform his thinking.
Connor’s thinking that being Black is a bad thing was fed by what he sees, reads and learns. Being a victim does not fit with his Ninjago world where it is all about being a winner. He wants to be a winner not a victim or a loser.
He is not seeing Black lives as heroic successes, nor Black people as capable of achieving anything, just as he can.
Time to talk
So, we talked, about
- Black footballers he admired and about Marcus Rushford and his achievements off the pitch too.
- John Stewart, the first Black MP was in our Parliament – which Connor had recently visited- nearly 200 years ago, and
- Charles Drew an African American who invented blood banks which have saved countless lives worldwide
But its not all about the boys. We searched online to find lots of women too like,
- Lui Yang, the first Black Asian female astronaut who flew in 2012
- Lilian Bader a Black female Liverpudlian who was a Corporal in the British Forces
- Margaret Busby OBE the first Black female book publisher.
In Connor’s own family
- Auntie Cheryl is a Cambridge graduate
- Uncle Tad is a research scientist
- Auntie Jade is a teacher.
- Uncle Andy is a painter and decorator
Connor piped in ‘and what about Uncle Billy, he is a drummer. He toured with famous bands, Dad says’ .
Our list went on and on and soon turned into a game of, ‘ and what about….’
Tapping into Connor’s favourite subject, Maths…..
‘You love Maths don’t you Connor….well the idea of zero as a written digit in the decimal place was developed in India where Hari’s grandparents were born, and that happened 1600 years ago!
‘Wow Nan, I’m going to tell Hari about that when we go to school tomorrow.’
- Build a library with books of success alongside the factual history books.
- Keep talking about racial attitudes…
- Explain with no blame, is the way
‘Always look on the bright side of life’ but don’t let the sun blind you to the complexity of the task. Time to go book hunting ..or maybe we will have to write our own?