I never noticed it before. It has been there for a while. This picture of Martin Luther King Jr on our fridge door. You know, that space that kids occupy. I hardly look at the fridge door – just open it to grab something to munch on or a cold one. But there it was. Amongst all the fridge magnets and numbers and pictures of the kids. I guess it didn’t stand out because it was white on white. Yes, we have a white fridge. The reason why it stopped me was because it looked a lot like my dad. And you know about the relationship between me and my dad.
So it stopped me in my tracks a bit. Who would draw a picture of my dad? No one around liked him or knew him well enough to do that. Is he haunting me? But then I saw the heading – Luther King Jr. I moved the African dancing figure magnet out the way and saw the whole name – Martin Luther King Jr. And yes, he was white.
I knew who drew this and couldn’t help but smile. It was my oldest daughter – my 10 year-old. She did it during the last holiday celebrating his life. And I knew she didn’t forget to color in his face. Or decided against it because she didn’t want to shade it in and lose the details. No. She did it because that is just the way she sees the world. I thought about it for a minute and chuckled. I knew where she came from with this. And I love her for that. Let’s go back to when she was just a little girl of 6 months – back in South Africa.
I read to her every single night. One story after the other. And she loved it. Lying there and listening to my voice tell her about the world of princesses and princes. Of wolves and pigs. And that last one did not refer to the cops. I tried to vary it by making up my own stories. But my wife said I had to stick to the original versions. No way can I place Snow White as a junkie in the street of Cape Town and the seven dwarfs the seven “bergies“. (Got to be South African to understand – dwarfs in Afrikaans is “dwergies” and that rhymes with “bergies” who are specific homeless characters from my region. And they have character!) No, I had to stick to the original version. And I got sick and tired of telling my little girl lies (apologies to my wife).
So I decided to read her Nelson Mandela’s story – Long Walk To Freedom. His autobiography about his life from when he was little to when he got out of jail. It was something I wanted to read and thought she would like it. It wasn’t as if she understood what I said when I read Cinderella either. Hey, I didn’t get it so how would she? So I started on Long Walk To Freedom and got my first bit of indoctrination of her ready. And she loved it. Because she could hear in my voice that I enjoyed it and that mattered to her. Always did to her. You know, the caring for others bit.
She grew up in a house where no form of any racism was allowed. That was one of the main reason my dad got banned from our house. I just never knew how to talk about race in South Africa. Not when it was still such a raw issue in my homeland. So we just never spoke about it. Oh of course we spoke to her about Apartheid and how Nelson Mandela fought against this corrupt system and got thrown in jail for his beliefs. But we somehow managed to not talk about race – never spoke about someone being black or white. It helped that our friends were from all over and came in all different shapes, sizes, sexual preferences and color. And her best friend was a little “black” girl called Imani. But there is a reason why I say “black”. Imani was black, but her natural mother was white. The dad was black but we never knew him. So in her little eyes it was the most natural thing in the world. Not knowing color or race. Imani was her friend and she had a nice mom who was friends of mom and dad. That’s it. The color of someones skin never made sense to her. At least not when talking about someone or trying to describe them. Why would it? Why would you want to describe someone as black or white when they are just your friend and have so many other reasons why they are your friend. Being black or white did not count when it came to picking friends so no need to talk about it. And then she went to school.
I was dreading it. At some stage she was going to be exposed to the issue of someone being black or white. I just didn’t know how to prepare her for this. She was so little. I didn’t want to influence her. I wanted her to learn about this world and come to me when she wanted to know more. She was always wise beyond her age. Her school was a nice mix so I was happy. A good school that reflected South Africa more or less – kids and teachers. And then, one day, it came. The “my black friend” reference…
I picked her up at school and, as always, I asked her what she did, was it nice, what did she have for lunch, etc. And without thinking she said that she played with her black friend and they had so much fun. I could feel the blood drain from my face. Who the hell told her to call someone black? But I prepared for this. And started asking her about this “black” friend of hers. I was going to get to the bottom of this and find out who taught her this… this… this bloody reference that had no place in defining your friends.
And when she told me the story about her “black” friend? I just packed up laughing. Stopped the car and gave her a big kiss and a hug. She had no idea why. But it was just so typical her. Her “black” friend wasn’t black at all. Not even close.
Her “black” friend was a white as Snow White. That was odd. So I asked her why she was her “black” friend. And the answer? “Because of her hair, silly dad. Her her is black daddy.” That’s when I stopped the car and gave her the hug and kiss.
You see, she heard someone talk about black and white people. And the only way this made sense to her was the color of their hair. She loved hair. And that made sense. Someone who is “black” had black hair and someone who was “white” had white hair. And she had a few “brown” friends and even a few “red” friends. Thank God she never met the punks in London back in the 80’s. She would have “purple” friends and “blue” friends and any friend you can think of. Still hold – those old ladies with the purple hair, but I guess they are too old to be her friend.
I felt proud of her. So proud of her. I knew she will be okay. And she taught me something I always hoped was true. You are not born a racist. You are made a racist. Shed a tear for those little kids with the hatred in their eyes who call people names. Those people grow up to make more racists. It’s a vicious circle. But they start off as just kids.
Martin Luther King Jr is white. And I couldn’t be prouder. I think he would be proud. I know she will continue to live his dream.