When kids learn a new word or phrase, they try it on. They wait for the right moment, or what they think is the right moment, and then with all the conviction they can muster, they try to make something they don’t yet understand sound like something they figured out years ago. “You can’t read my mind, Rose!” Sky screamed one day after his sister accused him of hurting her intentionally. “You don’t even know how to read yet!”
In a weird way, the same is true of race. You can’t possibly ask a kid who doesn’t understand that reading doesn’t always mean reading to understand that brown-skinned people are actually called blacks (except when they’re Latino) and pink-skinned people are actually called whites (except when they happen to be your extremely light-skinned younger sister). Watching Sky struggle with this, I’m aware that part of me wishes he would never figure it out. That there was nothing to figure out in the first place.
Not too long ago, looking at a black and white photo of Coretta Scott King, Sky tried on race like this.
“Mom, guess what? You and Daddy are just like Martin Luther King and Coretta!”
“Yea. Martin Luther King is dark just like you, and Coretta is light just like Daddy. Look! See?”
Look. See. And he means that, literally.