Minnesota Mamaleh: In Our House, Tolerance is a Bad Word

The Colors of Us by Karen Katz

The kids and my favorite children's book that teaches celebrating color.

Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday is being celebrated this Monday. Kids across America (mine included) are reading books, doing art projects, participating in community service and staying home from school in honor of one of our greatest heroes.
I am so happy that his memory and years of tireless service are still being honored and remembered today. I wonder, though, what are kids learning about MLK Jr.’s dream? And how we are living it? I remember a student saying, “He wanted everyone to get along and he worked hard for it.” True.
I decided to try and find a project idea online to do with my kids about MLK, Jr.
You know, something that really gets at the heart of the matter. Something with construction paper. And glue. And maybe some glitter.
As I looked at the countless of search hits, my heart sank. Amongst many, many coloring sheets and crossword puzzles  I came across the word tolerance. Just between you and me, I hate that word. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It always has. For me, it conjures up “putting up with” “endure” “allow.” I know, I know: accept, respect. However, my kids may tolerate spinach, long grown-up conversations and too-cold-to-play-outside days. They will NOT tolerate people.
People are meant to be celebrated. Enjoyed. Marveled at and learned from. But how in the world do we teach THAT?
I suppose we live it. As uncomfortable as it felt, I dug deep to the last time my kids and I were exposed to something (anything!) worthy of the label “real diversity.” My friends, my activities are very…homogeneous.
When I moved to Minnesota nearly a decade ago I was so uncomfortable with the sameness of it all. Coming from the San Francisco area it is quite jarring. And now…well to be brutally honest, I don’t always notice it.
Before kids I had so many ideals of the authentic learning that I would experience with my kids. And now I have so many ideals about sleeping through the night. Somehow, construction paper just doesn’t always scream authentic does it? I needed to keep thinking.
As I was still trying to come up with something that called out amazing! enlightening! diverse!, Kayli came home from public school Kindergarten breathless with excitement. “Mom! We learned about Passover today!” Hmm… “Really, K? What did you learn about Passover?” “There were slaves. And Martin Luther King, Jr. helped them!” Oh my sweet girl. According to Kayli, Abraham Lincoln was right in there, too, “helping the Hebrew slaves.” Along with Martin Luther King, Jr. Obviously.
I tried to de-tangle some of this for her. Different slaves. Different time periods. Different heroes. Same mistakes. As we were talking over lunch three-year-old Chloe was watching us with her big hazel eyes trying to make sense of what we were saying. It took every bit of willpower that I had to not pry her thoughts out of her. She looked so tender and not yet ready to talk.
As I lay down with Chloe before her nap time she sleepily said, “Same mistakes, Mama?” My heart skipped a beat at the teachable moment. Hooray for understanding! But oh-so-much pressure to send the right messages here.
And that is the heart of the matter. That’s the authentic learning that I was looking for. Making connections. Talking. Learning. Asking questions.
Living the same mistakes is a tragedy. Ignoring this with and for our kids: another tragedy. It was once considered politically correct and polite to “not see color.” I think the prideful term was, “color blind.” I don’t see color in my classroom, my play group, anywhere: TRAGEDY.
Colors are meant to be seen and that is what I want for my kids.
To notice differences and to be wild with curiosity about them. I want my kids to have the confidence in who they are and what they know to ask questions. To learn. To celebrate. NOT to tolerate. NOT to be and let be. Learn! Celebrate! Make others uncomfortable with your endless questions! (But only if you have to on the last one. We are in Minnesota after all!)