Am I A Black Person?

John Henry checked out a book from the library called “Ron’s Big Mission.”   Before he began to read the book aloud to me, I was not quite prepared to have a discussion on America’s past history of segregation.  But, it was time.  I am sure.

The book is based on the true story of Ron McNair who, as a child, was an avid reader and loved to read books about airplanes.  Growing up in South Carolina in the 50’s and 60’s was not exactly easy for any black child.  Especially a black boy who simply wanted to check out books from his local whites only public library. 

Until one day, Ron decided he wasn’t leaving the library until he was a card holder.  His mother was called, police officers showed up, and Ron stood his ground still.  As a result, Ron changed a piece of history and became the first black person to check out books from that library.

Talk about a lion chaser.

John Henry, of course, asked a lot of questions.  A lot of surprising questions.

“Am I a black person?” he asked. 

“No, baby, you are a white person.”

At this point in the conversation, I realized he had never identified people belonging to different races.  So, I asked him what he thought when he saw someone with dark skin. 

“I just thought their skin was darker.  That is all.  I kind of have dark skin, so I am really kind of white and black.”  He told me. 

“Sure.  You are white and black,” I assured him. 

I was not about to disappoint him.  I taught him about the days of segregation.  I explained where we were as a nation during those times and where we are now.  Honestly, it was a difficult, but necessary conversation. 

We then read a little more on the life of Ron McNair.  This 9-year old hero grew up to be an even greater American hero.  This little boy who loved airplanes became a pilot.  And, on January 28, 1986, he lost his life as an astronaut during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

I hope John Henry not only learned something about the significance of civil rights.  I also hope he learned about what it means to stand up for something he believes in.  And, what it really means to be a lion chaser.


Ron McNair
October 21, 1950 – January 28, 1986

96 Comments

Filed under life, making an impact, parenting

96 responses to “Am I A Black Person?

  1. Tammy

    Love it! May we all be lion chasers!

  2. Michelle

    Wow…& did you notice that you share a birthday with this American hero??? Another thing in common with someone great!!
    Blessings.

    • Dusty Takle

      Michelle, I did notice. I just couldn’t bring myself to share that comparison when he is the one who fought for and achieved so much!

  3. I love this. Especially the question, “Am I a black person”. Thank you for sharing and thank you for all the information on an amazing lion chaser.

  4. Thanks for sharing this story. I am a black person, and enjoyed the revelation of your son as well as the way you taught him – allowing him to be a “white and black person.”

    Another parent may have pushed that they were indeed white, teaching them instead that this classification is something that should become important to them. Bravo!

  5. Wonderful piece.

    Thanks for sharing. I’m glad that people who changed history and paved the way for others have not been completely forgotten.

    Sounds like you are doing a great job with John Henry.

  6. I have to admit to haing mixed feelings about this. On the one hand i love it when the stories of heros who stand on principle are shared, regardless of who those heros are.

    On the other hand as an African-American i wince when i read “you’re black and white.” Something inside of me feels a little violated but i’m not sure why.

    Still i wanted to commend you for setting the stage positively for future discussions that you and your child will have on race.

    • Dusty Takle

      I can understand your feelings and wanting to be able to identify with white or black. However, the mind of a young child doesn’t really function with identifying with a certain race. At least not one who is raised with seeing everyone and loving everyone the same. We are all on the receiving end of God’s grace. And, that really makes us all one.

    • E

      I wonder why such a thing would make you feel “violated”? It seems you are taking a very open-minded, positive and compassionate response about this subject and questioning the intent. I can understand wanting to identify and “belong” to our races, but i think its a more beautiful thing when we can make a consious decision to blur the lines a little.

    • the chebec, I also felt like something didn’t feel right about that part.

      Because of the white cultural dominance in the US, white parents have the *option* of teaching our children about race. I notice the comment from Dusty Takle below that children don’t identify with white or black, but that is simply not true for African-American children. As a white woman who grew up in black households with black family, friends since …forever – there’s a difference. To not teach a black child about race from a very young age would be sending him into the world ill-equipped for what lies ahead for him.

      Like you, I commend the author for talking frankly about race. I appreciate that it wasn’t made so complex that he’d never ask again, or so simplistic that he doesn’t realize race exists.

      • @ the chebec…

        The wincing I understand. Or at least I think I may, as a Minority myself, when the “Historical Oppressor” tries to “take” what is not theirs, it does cause a flinch.

        Allow me to elaborate, for I feel that my sentence can be misconstrued…

        Historically, Anglo’s have been the Oppressors to minorities.
        Now, when, as in this instance, the “Historical Oppressor” is making “light” of a situation by the pat on the head of “you are both black and white,” one does wince because we were not given that. We were not and are not BOTH. Even if Ethnically we are the result of the coming together of different Cultures and/or Ethnicities. We are the “Lowest” or the Minority, always.

        Now, I understand COMPLETELY that Dusty Takle, when speaking with John Henry was not intentionally making light (pun not intended) of the situation. Simply doing the best that one can. I Understand that and am in no way undmining that.
        I honestly feel that the response was Beautiful! It will continue to make us all “the Same” to some degree. Even when reality is different. But a child need not know that, not yet. Not even a Minority Child. They need not know about discrimination or the such until they are confronted with it.
        My daughter, now 17, never realized that there were differences until the 5th grade. And I am thankful for that.
        In my case, I was unaware until the 6th Grade, Thanks Mom! :)

        I do hope my comment was clear.

  7. This was a wonderful blog. Segregation is a hard topic to tackle with any human being, let alone a child. You are a great representative of good parenting where children are given choices on outlooks rather a specific belief drilled into their minds setting a path that could waver positively or negatively. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Awesome write up. Truth is in the Youth!

  9. Lindsay

    So sweet. I love the innocence of children.

    – Lindsay
    http://www.thedailyawe.com

  10. athenapearl

    Wow. After days of reading about such horrible people saying and doing horrible things, its SO WONDERFUL to read about something so good and innocent. Thank you!

  11. Love this post, thank you so much for sharing. It is amazing how we can see settled issues in a new way through the eyes of children. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed today!!

  12. Ron Mcnair was and still is a awesome part of our history and a great role model for all to look up to! What an inspiring story.

  13. sharonstephanie

    His was a truly inspiring story. I like the analogy and may we all be after all, true happiness comes with doing the things we love.

    Best

  14. Gayla

    I thought surely that this blog was about Anna.
    Isn’t it wonderful that our children do not “see”
    color…I had almost the same conversation with my kids…

  15. lenanozizwe

    What a great story.I grew up with a real love of libraries. I went every day. Fortunately I did not have to fight for a library card.

  16. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story…and for teaching this Canadian gal about an American astronaut!

  17. A lion chaser. I think that’s what I want to be when I grow up! Thanks for sharing. I remember when the Challenger blew up. That was crazy.

    Crystal
    http://www.crystalspins.com

  18. JM

    The best part of this post is the title…I have asked that question of myself. I notice that people see race much differently than I do and it was pretty confusing when I was younger. Now I just feel bad for them.

  19. andresc78

    Wow!! What a story… I remember 1986 and the Challenger like if it was yesterday, i was only 8 and couldnt sleep just to think all this people died loving what they were doing…. Incredible story!

    Thanks!

  20. I love the library, reading and the entire shuttle program esp those we lost on Challenger that fateful day.

    Thank you for keeping Ron’s story, life and legacy alive for all generations.

  21. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I was not aware of his story and what a wonderful story it is! I think it’s such a wonderful lesson how your child only thought that their skin was simply darker than his. Such a simple and non-judgmental perspective. We should all take a lesson from a child’s innocent point of view. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  22. Great Post.
    I never knew the library story.

  23. I want to be a parent like Ron’s mother.
    How positive and encouraging she was.
    To hell with labels.

  24. Patty

    Loved your approach. What I really find odd is that most adults want so much to identify with white or black, but truthfully most of us can only go back a few generations. I really don’t know who my great great grandparents were, what heritage or color they were or where they lived. I have olive undertones and when my children were born and weren’t pasty white, I got comments all the time like “Are you sure they are not jaundiced?” These people were so sure my children should have different color skin then they actually had. Why couldn’t they just look at my babies as the precious children they were – why can’t we just look at all people that way?

  25. Mom

    Truly an amazing blog, I love the heart of John Henry, and your insight into raising and teaching your children what really matters, and that is, God looks on the heart, and not the color of our skin… If only we can all be like little children~

    I so appreciate the story of Ron..what an inspiration!

  26. Wendy

    Dusty – we never discuss color of skin either and one day Kelci came home from Kindergarten and told me that there were “brown” people in her class and that she loved their skin and wished that hers was that color too. I told her, “yes, their skin in beautiful and that God made us all different.” She was fine with that. We still to this day do not discuss differences of race in our home. We have many “brown” friends and certainly don’t want to emphasize that difference. If it is ever brought up, Kelci brings it up with a question and we answer it and go on.

    Kids don’t notice stuff like that until it is brought to their attention or until they are a little older. And then they notice it because they have eyes and can see we all look different. The same goes with big, little, small, fat, skinny. In Kelci’s school in Stockbridge she heard a couple of the teachers talking about the “black kids” and she came home to me and she was upset. She said, “mommy, they are not black, they are brown.” I told her she was right. So, even though we try to not bring it to their attention, you have some teachers doing it! I don’t want my child to ever treat someone different because of the way they look or the life they choose to live.

    Great story and of course as always, you handled it great!

  27. Wow! That is the best story I’ve read in ages.
    Hope I get a Mom like that for my kids.
    Growing up in Jamaica, I really dnt knw alot about racism in our country or in the Caribbean bt my heart bleeds everytime I read about it happening in other parts of the world. Will we ever be truly over this racist CRAP! I hope so.
    (Dnt like this Hurricane that’s blowing around President Obama though.)

  28. Great read. It’s amazing how much we take for granted. Kids these days would rather work on a jumpshot than protest over a library card.

  29. michele mathias

    Once Again Dusty, You have taught some things I didn’t know (the story about the Library I did not know..) But, I also remember the day of the Challenger disaster…You are obvoiusly a great mother for the things you have taught John Henry and Anna… I always love the stories about her as well and I am sure Little Jett will have stories too come!!! Just keep doing what you are doing… It is working!!! :0)

  30. This story brought back some familiar memories for me. I am of Mexican descent. When I was growing up, we lived in an all white neighborhood and I went to an all-white elementary school. When I started kindergarten, I thought I was just like everyone else–white, only I didn’t see them as “white.” I thought we were all just kids and that’s what made us alike.

    Then, little by little, some kids would make comments to me that would start to make me uncomfortable. Like asking me, “What are you?” I remember thinking, “What do you mean?” Only I wouldn’t answer because I didn’t know what they were talking about, I only knew I didn’t like the way they asked me and that the fact that they were even asking me made me feel “different” than them.

    I am the happiest that you told John Henry that he is “white and black” as that is the way HE identified himself when trying to understand the difference and seeing there was no difference, he came to the conclusion that he was both. He did base that on his skin color when he said he has “kind of dark skin,” but he certainly didn’t mean that in the way most people would have tried to make a distinction between races based on the color of someone’s skin. His was a totally innocent observation that brings attention to the way kids see things, and more importantly, the way they DON”T see things. Too bad some people are taught prejudice at all and lose the beautiful innocence and truth of a child.

    And the history lesson about Ron McNair is a wonderful story. Thanks for teaching me something I didn’t know.

  31. and what you must answer when black asks you is he black ?

  32. Wow, that’s an awesome story, I love it. Especially that he ended up being an astronaunt in the end, and it’s amazing how things can be changed by people standing up for stuff that we take advantage of now.

  33. monica

    what a wonderful story….

  34. Awesome.

    thanks & congrats on FP!

  35. beabots keniston

    congrats on being freshly pressed.

    I am a Filipina married to a White American. My husband has a Black American sister-in-law and his family is Baha’i. Baha’i promotes unity among races. I remember being laughed at as a kid in the Philippines because I was “too” dark brown to be Pinoy. Whitening soaps , lotions and pills are a fad to a lot of Pinays (and some Pinoys). *Sigh*

    Whenever we look at someone, we see a person not a race. Our personalities make us what we are and not our races.

    @Patty – Amen to what you said.

  36. This was a beautiful story! I loved that children do not see color! How wonderful, I wish we all did not!!! God bless him I’m sure he is up there looking at you thanking you for everything!! Kudos!

    evelyngarone.com

  37. All of my kids have wanted to be “brown”….Its so pretty they would just cry – Yes it is, I would respond.

    My last laughed when he asked if he was “brown” and I told him he was “white”. He said he was “more of a peach” – yes you are little guy!!

    We are shades of all the same heart – made by the Creator!

    Love you DT

  38. My son is almost five years old and he has never, not once!, made any mention of skin color nor has he expressed any curiosity or aversion to anyone’s skin color. He treats everyone the same. It’s too bad we have to teach them of our country’s unfortunate past, but alas we must, kind of a catch 22, I think, because THEN he’ll start noticing.
    I love the post!

  39. Thank you for this – wow! I work in the education field and I forwarded this over to our director who specializes in family literacy for young children. I can’t wait to find a copy of it myself to give to my daughter.

    You have a very smart kid!

  40. When I started writing fiction about being poor in the South, I often removed racial markers for my characters. When I gave readings, I was often asked afterwards if the characters were Black or White. That they were White was often eye opening for them, and that I came from a poor White community and loved reading, arts and especially libraries also opened people’s perceptions a little bit about the limitations of stereotypes based on race.

    I do fabric art dolls now and try not to used skin tones and that’s led to some wonderful interpretations about what makes up a personality. Thanks for taking your son to the library — I’ll never forget reading Nikki Giovanni as a young teen and having a whole new perspective opened up for me.

    Great Blog!

  41. Kyran

    This Touched Me, I feel that as a society we let Color be a Crutch, when in Fact its who we are as individuals that should define who we are, It will take time since the civil rights movement itself is only 40-50 yrs old. But Many kids today are enjoying each others cultures alot more and are more tolerant than older generations. That is a key for us to View Each other a Humans 1st Men and Women Second and a Color Third.

  42. So great, Dust, so great. I think I’m black too.

  43. sam pierce

    Thank you, Dusty Takle for a great post. Your child is right, he is “both black and white.” It is true whether we believe in evolution or creation–both say we ALL began in Africa; and since we are the same peoples of the ages, then all of us are a mixure between black and white; and by now, after all of the mixing–we are all a little of both colors. Genetics teach us that we never lose our genetic makeup (genotype) we only add or mix genes that cause a different look (phenotype). That means that the genes for white people (and Asians, Jews, Arabs, and so on and on….) were in the very first Africans (Adam & Eve, Lucy, etc.) over one million to twenty-five hundred thousand years ago; but more importantly, we commend you on a sweet story and history lesson for John Henry. This is how we obtain a different result in the CNN “Race” study that has now become famous.

    Thank you.
    [sp]

  44. pat

    “Wonderful post”!!!!Enjoyed reading all of this info on Ron McNair.

  45. loviedovie

    I have to admit seeing the title made me a little up in arms, but as I read your article it made me smile!…in all reality the only thing that seperates us all is color! Since my husband is navy, we’ve had a chance to meet and surround ourselves around people of various races, and those same people we now consider no less than family. It truly goes to show how some actions are “taught”, and I want to thank you parent to parent, on allowing our children to love everyone! Thank you!

  46. Great blog Dusty!! You def enlarge your children’s territory! Loved how you did it! Easily with lots of love to teach them to receive us all made in His image!

  47. Jennifer

    As someone who is black and white, and young enough to remember childhood, I can say I didn’t see race in other kids until it was pointed out to me. And I distinctly remember the moment to this day.

    (And I imagine having parents of both colors played a role in my color blindness.)

    But I still don’t understand why some people are so focused on it.

    Good post. :)

  48. Great article! It just goes to show kid’s are not born racist. Someone has to teach it to them. May you and your family be blesses always.

  49. Beautiful :) May we all be child-like in our views of race and culture. Sometimes children have so much to teach US.

    Thanks for this. It made my day.

  50. Being blind to the obvious has been fashionable. But that is being changed to persons that see. Incompatible races being forced to live together is contrary to natural law. It is normal and natural for persons of the same people to desire to live together.

    For persons that think that racism is wrong, you might search the scriptures, such as Ezra 9 & 10, (chapters nine and ten) Nehemiah 13, and other scriptures. Consider that God that chose Israel.

    • It is not because of a different skin color Israel was not to marry outside of Israel…. It was because they worshiped false gods.

      The end of the 13th chapter alludes to Solomon’s sin – it wasnt the marriage to foreign but that his wives turned his heart away from God and he built his wives poles to their gods.

      Lets not forget Rahab and Ruth both non-Israelites but in the line of Christ, as well as the “Good Samaritan” who crossed the road to aid the Jew.

  51. Great title, and great subject. Your son’s question and your article were a blessing to me. I am glad it made it to freshly pressed for me to read.

  52. What a cute story! Your kid is very smart : )

    Plus the additional info about Ron McNair was pretty cool. I never knew that about him.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed and thanks for sharing such a pleasant story!

  53. Beautiful experience! I try to remember every day to see the world through the eyes of my inner child!

    Light, Life, Love, :)

  54. Hi. I think this is a lovely post; I can really feel where your heart was going with this.

    I read some of the earlier comments, and as a black person, I too stumbled over the line “You are white and black,” but I love the values you are trying to instill in your children. I would just say that racial descriptions–black, white–are just that, like a shirt can be red or green. It’s not a value judgment unless someone places a bias on it. We don’t have to be the same race to respect and admire each other, or to even look up to one another as a role models. We don’t have to be afraid of such differences.

    I’m glad I came across your blog. Keep up the good work!

  55. Darlene

    I grew up in the north; upstate New York to be exact. I never saw someone of a different race until I was in grade school and it was then that my parents taught me the best possible lesson of all – the color of the skin doesn’t matter, it’s how the PERSON treats you. So someone could be green with polka dots and if they are treating me according to the Golden Rule, well, what difference does it make? It’s how I have lived my life and how I will continue to live my life. God created everyone. That may be simplistic to some, but it works for me.

    I taught that principle to my older two children. I still remember the looks we got when the younger of the two and his best friend were together (from age 7 until 12-13). Because he and his best friend were different races. But they cared not. They were thicker than thieves, as the saying goes, and loved me so much they wanted to live with me when they grew up (that has since changed!). And now, I’m teaching it to my younger two.

    God willing, we can work to eradicate the prejudice that is still rampant and replace it with compassion, love and kindness for another human being. Because after all, we ARE all human beings!

  56. Great post. I did not know the story of the library incident. That is such a sad thing. I am so happy that he stood his ground and got that library card!

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  58. Sunflowerdiva

    Wonderful blog post, just wonderful. :)

  59. My granddaughter is mixed race We made Ron tribute for African American month Feb. We had the explosion of the space shuttle, his hand drawn picture, short bio, and list of all African Americans NASA. We took second place in whole elementary school!

  60. Ahna Rebekah Hendrix

    Great post!

    I remember a friend telling me how her daughter, who was 7, didn’t know who her mother was in her fourth grade picture.

    Mind you, her mother was the only black woman in the class.

    Children don’t see color until we teach them, and they don’t understand racism until they see it through our actions.

    If only we could all be so “ignorant.”
    :)

  61. teganor

    Ron was a great person, and it’s awesome that you had the opportunity to discuss something so important with your child. At 18, and as a black person, I *still* forget when I look “different” from other people I hang out with. It isn’t until the last moments that I have an awkward thought, “Oh yeah, I’m like the only black person here.” Then I’m like, “It doesn’t seem like anyone cares – oh well!” Unfortunately, it is due to my mom’s *reiteration* of us looking different that I ever notice at all. She has always made it a point to say, “You’re black, and you can’t just go up to other people like they’re all good. They might not accept you.”
    Weird.

    But again, it’s great to hear such a open minded (and adorable) story.

  62. My youngest child who is Chinese noticed how her eyes were different from ours when she was two, but thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until she was exposed to a public school where Asian was the smallest minority in an 80% Caucasian county that she ever heard any hatefulness about being different. It was easier to raise my first 3 children not to see race as a dividing line than it was to help her cope with the ugliness that has come her way for being Asian over the years.

    Our children mirror our prejudices or our lack of them. This is why we can teach our children not to see race as a dividing line – or any one race as superior. Keep up the good work. It will innoculate John Henry for the time when one of his peers tries to change his perspective.

  63. great blog, relevant topic..but omg how sad that ron mcnair died so young

  64. When I read the title I thought this would be about something completely different, but I was pleasantly surprised.

    Children can be some of the nastiest, cruelest racists out there, due to their parents teachings even if creating little Nazis wasn’t their intention. No child is just born like that. It always makes me so sad to hear some of the things children will say to someone of a different race or color.

    So thank you, for raising a gentleman that can see beyond color. We need more of those in the world. Sure, things have improved, but there’s still the occasional bad egg. It’s always heart warming to see a child continue to hold on to their compassion and innocence instead of being turned into some horrid bullying beast.

  65. I loved your story and read through your blog a bit. I loved the entry where you talked about forgetting you were on a diet. I do stuff like that far too often! I wanted to comment to some of the other commenters who keep saying, “I wish we all didn’t see race, just like children…” I couldn’t disagree with that more. God created races. There is a purpose to us being different. And it is good. I am not white, I am pinkish tan. However, for communication we use the word white. As in…that girl over there…the tall, loud, white girl. It’s a way to identify someone. We attach all kinds of emotion and insecurity to words like white and black. They create a culture of fear-based political correctness that inhibits people’s authenticity and enables our national and personal insecurities. Talking about race shouldn’t be any different than talking about any other identifiable characteristic. It could be that if you don’t want to acknowlege someone’s race, it is you who is harboring a negative connotation about race and what it means. Chew on that.

  66. I still love to be referred to as “a Black American man” rather than an “African American” because, I have never been, nor do I plan to GO to the African continent ( I’d probablyu come-down with a serious illness if I went there -or…(LOL) see another perona who looks like ME – or my best friend in the USA! Ha!)

  67. Thank you for sharing! Wonderful.

  68. I struggle with the implications of this post. Because I think it is a dangerous proposition that children should be encouraged to be color blind.

    Aversive racism allows us to accuse those that belong to the underclass of being lazy and makes racism an “individual” problem and ignores the “institutional” problem that it really is.

    Sure, we live in a country where everyone has the same opportunities. But ignoring the fact that white privilege is alive and well in this country is the primary reason racial inequality continues to exist.

    • Dusty Takle

      The purpose of this post was not to argue whether people should be color blind. But, rather to show that racism is taught. And, an innocent child sees all people the same. Period.

  69. inspirational!! I pray this generation continues to grow up believing we are all just white and black. that is so beautiful!! what an amazing little man you have there, and the Ron McNair story is so touching. thanks for sharing!

  70. I remember 1986 like it was yesterday. Even as an Ethnic Studies major, I am almost embarrassed to say I did not know this history about Ron McNair other than he was on that shuttle in 1986. Thanks for the eye-opener and I think I’ve just found the next read. Thanks and good post! LB

  71. Great Post! An inspirational and mood lifting story.

  72. Such an inspiring story and he’s such a good role model. Segregation does lead to racism, that’s when superiority and inferiority would come in. We are all created equal in this world therefore we should be treated equally whatever your status in life is. Aside from that everything does start at home, so we need to be aware on how we educate our children. Still ignorance indeed is a bliss.

    Online Parenting Class

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