One of the reasons I love my Brooklyn neighborhood is the diversity. No, I don’t love the occasional shootings, I don’t love the graffiti, I don’t love the garbage. But I love my neighbors. I love my kids’ classmates. I love the playgrounds. I love the feeling.
From the time my kids were tiny, they were surrounded by people of every shade. Race was just not an issue. And if the rest of the world ran the same way, that would be an awesome and perfect thing. But with the absence of racial awareness comes an ignorance of what the world is really like.
Our neighborhood is not some kind of utopia. There’s plenty of racism, classism, and socio-economic stuff going on, and being white people who moved into a gentrifying neighborhood many people probably see us as a problem. But these are grown-up issues, and all the kids know is that white, black, and mixed-race people are our neighbors and friends. So when I told Fiona that we were going to go see the movie 42, I knew I needed to give her some background on just how bad things used to be for black people in the United States in what is very much recent history – just not her history. I was afraid she would be completely confused, and maybe even think the movie was fiction.
I explained to her about Jim Crow laws, and the more we talked the more I realized that except for one single instance – Rosa Parks on a bus – she knew basically nothing about what’s gone on between slavery and now. We talked about how if we lived in the 1950s, we wouldn’t have black neighbors, she wouldn’t be in school with black and mixed-raced friends. And then Fiona said something as hilarious as it was surprising: “And I wouldn’t have been born.” Confused, I asked her why. “Because you and daddy wouldn’t be together…Daddy’s black, right?”
Let me just take a moment to laugh hilariously, since I managed – somehow – not to laugh at the time.
My husband is Turkish, so he’s a bit darker than I am. He’s the same shade as many of her friends who are mixed race. I can see her confusion. And I love her for it.
So we all went to see 42 yesterday. It’s a solidly good – not great – movie, but it is a great story. The problem is that the characters are all rather one-dimensional, and I have to blame that squarely on the script – the acting is uniformly superb. But in terms of my kids, I just wanted them to get a sense of what people went through – not just a superstar like Jackie Robinson, but average ordinary people – and I think the movie does a great job of getting that across.
The things that Robinson had to endure still happen today – post-racial my ass. But what the film showed was how common and normal they were back then, and how it took bravery on both sides to change the norm.
I highly recommend this film. Be warned that there is a lot of harsh language, but it is in no way gratuitous – it’s completely necessary for the story.
I can explain things to my kids until I’m blue in the face, but nothing can compare to them seeing it portrayed on a big screen. This morning I asked Fiona what her favorite part of the movie was, and she said “How some of the white people were friends with Jackie Robinson, even though other people might not like them because they were.”
She got it. The movie did its job.
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