“Daddy, is it okay to be white?” Here’s my answer … What’s yours?


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ow should I answer my young son’s question, “Daddy, is it okay to be white?” (Scroll down to yesterday’s post for background on this question. It stems from our series this week on the legacy of Dr. King.)

I’ve learned through trial and error that the best responses to my son are simple, straightforward, and short—no professorial ramblings or (at least to me) fascinating digressions. I needed an answer that was truthful and direct, something appropriate for his age and capabilities.

My first, impulsive response—which I didn’t say—was flip: Sure, of course it’s okay to be white! Not only would that have been flip, it wouldn’t have addressed his question.

Here’s what I did say:

“In the old days, it was okay only to be white. Now it’s okay to be any color.”

“Old days” is our codeword for the time of my childhood and before.

He stopped what he had been doing, paused, and looked up at me. He was thinking—and I was waiting.

Oh,” he replied.

I had to find out more, so I asked, “What made you think of that question?” He continued to look at me, thinking, and then took refuge in the strategy that children have used since time immemorial—“I dunno,” he said.

And that was it.

What do you think of my response? If you have an alternative, please tell us! So far, the issue has not come up again but I’m sure it will and I’ll need all the help I can get.

I am left pondering what it all means. Why did he ask the question? What in his experience led to it? What does it tell us about our changing society?

I mentioned in my Tuesday post that, on Monday, I attended Gwen Ifil’s MLK Day lecture at the University of Michigan. (Ifil is the host of Washington Week and co-anchor of PBS NewsHour.) During her remarks at a breakfast preceding the lecture, she call race “a national tripwire.”

Please step over the tripwire and make a comment!
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