Sing About Martin

How do you talk about difficult subjects with your children? How do you explain things that you yourself don't quite understand?

Sing about caring
Sing about peace
All around the world.

My son came home from school singing that little ditty by Jackie Silberg last week.  He was proud to sing the song, complete with sign language, for me several times this weekend before he turned his face upwards, asking me, “Why do we sing about Martin?”

I paused, knowing that answering that question honestly was going to take a small bit of his innocence and blind trust in the world.  To answer the question completely, I had to explain context to him in a way that a six-year-old could understand.

“Before mommy was born, there were people who thought that if you looked different or lived differently than they did, you were not as good as they were.”

“What?  I don’t understand…”

I sighed, biting my lip as I gathered my thoughts.  “I don’t really understand either.  But there were people who thought that if someone had a different color skin, they weren’t as good as white people.”

His eyebrows pulled together sharply.  “Why?”

“I don’t know.  Do you think people who look differently or live differently than we do are not as good as us?”

“No, Mom, my friend Anna has black skin and I like her a lot.”

“I know, buddy.  But there was a time when people didn’t understand that all people are the same, and that’s what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was teaching.”

“Oh!  Martin!”  His face lit up as he connected the name to his song.

“He was teaching that all people should be able to live in good homes, go to good schools, and have the way to make good lives for themselves and their families.  It wasn’t that way and because of the things he said and did, many people learned that all people should have the same opportunities.”

“Like, they should all be able to sit anywhere on a bus or in a restaurant?”

“Yes, just like that.

“OK.  I think I understand.  But I don’t understand why different people are bad.”

“I don’t think they are, do you?”

“No, Mom, I don’t.”

I thought back to conversations I had with my parents, Baby Boomers who came of age during the late 1960’s.  I remember asking my mother to explain a racial slur because it just didn’t make sense to me – how could one thing apply to all people of any race?  I’m still not sure I get it, yet here I was, trying to help my child understand.

He walked away from me soberly, the same way he did when I explained how some parents aren’t always nice to their children.  I don’t like being the person who shows him the cracks in humanity, the frailty of conscience.  On the other hand, I would rather bring these flaws to him gently so that I can teach him that, despite all of our failings, hope rests in understanding and education, handed down to combat xenophobia and hatred and violence.  Maybe if I do it right, my compassionate young man will not outgrow his innate empathy.

Sing about Martin
Sing about loving
Sing about peace
All around the world.

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