Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As I reflect on the significance of this day, I am struck by how far we’ve come since the 1960’s in accepting diversity in our nation. I smile as I think of our country’s youth, and my smile grows bigger as I recall a recent experience I had observing perceptions of diversity through the eyes of today’s children.
A few weeks ago, I was facilitating a children’s social skills group. The kiddos participating in the group were boys and girls ranging from 6-10 years old. It was nearing the end of the hour and as a reward for good behavior, the kids were playing a game of “I Spy.” In case you are unfamiliar with this game, it involves one player (the spy) secretly finding an item in the room of a particular color and saying to the other players, for example, “I spy something yellow,” after which the other players must guess what yellow object the spy is spying. The player who guesses correctly is the next to be the spy.
The kiddos were well into the game when one of the boys was selected to be the spy. “I spy something black,” he said. The other children rattled off guess after guess, to no avail. Finally, I intervened and said, “Ok, buddy. We give up! What do you spy that is something black?” The little boy pointed across the room at one of the other group members, an African American girl. He proudly pointed and stated, “It’s her skin,” delighted he had tricked us all. The room went silent as I racked my brain for how to handle this situation. The little girl being pointed at stood expressionless for a moment and then she began smiling as well. She pointed back at the little boy and exclaimed, “Yeah, and your skin is white!” Another group member, a little Hispanic girl, yelled, “And my skin is brown!” Then someone else exclaimed, “Did you know my dad’s skin is black too?” And just like that, a conversation had ensued with all the children talking about their friends’ skin colors and their family members’ skin colors. After a few minutes of making these “connections,” one of the older children in the group stated in a loud voice, “Do you know that it doesn’t matter if someone has different skin than you? It’s a fact that anyone can be friends with anyone they want cuz it’s a free country!” And not a single negative word was said.
A few decades ago, in my youth, a conversation like this never would have happened. Yes, we still have strides to make, but children in our country are leading us in the right direction. I am so impressed by how far we’ve come and I bet Dr. King would feel the same way.