Over the Fourth of July weekend there was a picnic at beautiful Promontory Point, down in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood.
The breeze was easy and the talk was breezy, even when it was serious. At one point, an intellectual African-American soccer mom and my wife and I sat on the blanket and lamented how difficult it is to know how and when to introduce the topic of race to our kids.
In truth, we probably didn't trust ourselves to bring our kid step-by-step toward an honest and subtle understanding about a 400-year old situation and how it might relate to the way one of her friends behaved at soccer camp yesterday, and how she feels about it.
We did it the best we could. The very best we could, though not nearly as well as we imagined we should.
We taught our kids lessons about race with movies and books—more or less strategically timed, and orally annotated. With conversations about events in the news, and with a few set-piece lectures about what we wish we'd known when we were kids. And per usual, mostly by our behavior and utterances (and lack of same) on and around the race question, usually when we didn't know we were being heard and watched—or when we didn't care.
I don't know about my soccer mom friend, but the combination of movies and conversations and lectures and observations my kid got from her parents—combined with her vastly larger young experience with a variety of African American kids (we get credit for that too!)—seems to have given her a sturdier foundation than I had, with which to build her own version of the sophisticated and subtle philosophy all Americans must have on the subject of race.
It's not necessarily my race philosophy I want her to adopt, mind you—but a deeper and more daily and more familiar perspective on slavery and its legacy, on institutional racism, race and poverty, personal responsibility, on vocabulary and on progress. And maybe she will be more learned, too—and can help me with "cultural appropriation," which I don't think I get at all.
In any case, I heard myself say it, right there on the picnic blanket: "the sophisticated and subtle philosophy all Americans must have on the subject of race."
And the soccer mom heard me say it.
And we both leaned back on our hands looked at the sky and marveled for a moment at how much conscious energy we've each devoted to this single aspect of our children's education—wasn't it the birds and the bees that parents used to agonize over?—and the sheer height of the order we're asking of other American parents, to help their own American kids come to their own thoughtful view on The American Subject, until all 320 million Americans are consciously (albeit imperfectly and certainly not uniformly) educated about the thousand questions of race in America.
How in the world can that happen?
But then, how in America can it not?